HILTON HEAD, S.C. (March 30, 2001) — The tire industry can expect a rollercoaster ride on the regulatory and legislative fronts over the next few years, according to speakers at the Clemson University Tire Industry Conference.
The industry must remain vigilant over regulations stemming from the Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, said Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, at the March 21-23 conference held at Hilton Head.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration is just coming off its honeymoon period and congressional districts will be redrawn according to population figures from the 2000 census. Both of these factors will make it difficult for Mr. Bush in the 2002 elections and beyond, according to Isabel Jasinowski, vice president of government relations for Goodyear.
"2000 was a year to remember for the industry," said Mr. Shea. "We went from a business community totally below the radar screen to one that was on the 24-hour news." But the tire industry, led by the RMA, played a major role in shaping the legislation into something tire makers could live with.
"We thought the interest on the part of Congress and consumers was so great that we opted for cooperation, not confrontation," Mr. Shea said.
However, the tire industry can´t afford to rest on its laurels, according to Mr. Shea. There are 12 separate rulemakings stemming from the TREAD Act, several of which affect the tire industry strongly, and the continuing possibility that some congressman or senator will try to add provisions to the new law.
For example, comments on the proposed "early warning" rule were due at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration March 23, and the RMA made it a particular point to make itself heard on that subject.
"Congress´ intent is to seek only information significant to an early warning system," Mr. Shea said. "It should not cast a wide net."
Similarly, Congress has directed NHTSA to complete rulemaking on a tire pressure sensor regulation by November of this year, and is collecting comments on an advance rulemaking notice to change federal tire testing requirements.
The RMA and its members already started work on the latter issue in 1997, under the aegis of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, Mr. Shea noted. NHTSA granted the association´s petition in 1999 to begin rulemaking on adopting Global Tire Standard-2000, the industry´s suggested testing and safety standard.
"In the wake of the TREAD Act, GTS-2000 is a starting point, not the end," Mr. Shea said. "We have already updated our GTS-2000 recommendations to reflect this."
The mood in Washington at the beginning of the Bush administration is "a mixed bag" between the Wall Street rollercoaster, major industry layoffs and exploding energy costs, according to Ms. Jasinowski.
"This leaves President Bush in a situation where members of Congress have mixed emotions," she said. "They admired him for getting off to a fairly clean start, and for his pledge to work with both sides of the aisle. But then he allowed the Republicans to run a tax bill through in which he didn´t confer with the Democrats.
"That means he doesn´t have much political capital to squander, and has to be careful about how he moves," she said.
Adding to the tension in Washington is the "acute partisanship" over the 2002 elections, she added. The census means that congressional districts will be redrawn, with some added and some subtracted according to population patterns.
"It will be a volatile situation in 2002," Ms. Jasinowski said. "It means an automatic increase in the number of vulnerable seats, with some incumbents being forced to run against each other."
This exacerbates the nervousness over the already razor-thin majorities the GOP has in Congress. "Nobody predicted a 50-50 situation in the Senate," she said. "And Strom Thurmond still has a lot of energy, but he´s had a good life.
"If (Mr.) Thurmond leaves office, the governor of South Carolina is likely to appoint a Democrat, and everyone is mindful of that," she said. "(Mr.) Bush is lucky that hasn´t happened yet. He knows he´s going to have to capture the middle-of-the-road members of Congress, and when he irked blue-dog Democrats over the tax bill, that wasn´t smart. He´ll need those conservative Democrats."