WASHINGTON-Rubber manufacturers, tire dealers and retreaders are affected just as heavily by the tragedy of Sept. 11 as the rest of U.S. society. But they still need and seek the same things they needed and sought before the attacks.
These were the opinions of the top executives of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, Tire Association of North America and International Tire and Rubber Association, stating their legislative agendas for 2002.
``I don't think our priorities will change because of Sept. 11,'' said Becky MacDicken, government affairs director for TANA.
``A lot of domestic issues got placed on the back burner, but not all,'' added Roy E. Littlefield III, government affairs director for ITRA.
Congress hasn't changed any more than industry in the wake of Sept. 11, according to Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
``Clearly Congress adopted the tone and spirit of bipartisanship early on,'' Mr. Shea said. ``That still prevails in regard to the war on terrorism, but it's less evident in domestic issues. Rhetoric notwithstanding, partisanship is alive and well.''
For TANA and ITRA, the biggest change next year will be their merger, which means that Ms. MacDicken and Mr. Littlefield will be working together under the direction of Ross Kogel, who will head the combined association.
``This gives us an opportunity to expand the role of government affairs in the organization,'' Mr. Kogel said. ``Issues that should have been addressed, but which we weren't able to, now we'll be able to tackle fully.''
Mr. Littlefield, for his part, also will continue to serve as government affairs director for two service station associations. ``In so very many issues-especially environment and auto repair-service stations have exactly the same position as tire dealers and retreaders,'' he said. ``This will give us more opportunities to testify (in Congress) under the same umbrella.''
Mr. Shea noted that a strong government relations effort will be particularly crucial in 2002.
``Government relations are nothing but hard work,'' he said. ``Nobody's going to tell your story as well as you do. It's increasingly on us to gather all the facts we can and present our case as forcefully as we can. If it doesn't come out the way we want, we redouble our efforts and try again.''
Meanwhile, here are some of the major issues the associations will consider in 2002:
The TREAD Act. ``Nine of the 12 regulations mandated by the TREAD Act will impact us directly,'' Mr. Shea said of the Transportation Recall Enforcement, Accountability and Documentation Act that was signed into law in the fall of 2000.
The period leading up to the bill's passage, he said, was ``six weeks of Hell,'' but the coalition it created between the RMA and tire manufacturers has held together.
Rules from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on tire pressure monitoring, tire testing and early warning of defects are due out this year. ``These three are huge in terms of potential impact,'' Mr. Shea said. Considering these standards, he added, ``I don't think we should be lulled into a false sense of security that we can be anything other than vigilant in the months ahead.''
Part of that vigilance, according to Mr. Shea, is making sure consumers realize that a new standard doesn't necessarily equate with greater safety.
``If you install a tire pressure monitoring system on a car, the American public will believe that unless the tire warning light comes on, their tires are safe,'' he said. ``The biggest question is whether the regulations will increase or decrease safety.'' For that reason, the industry must continue to focus on TREAD Act regulations, he said.
Regarding TREAD Act regulations, TANA's greatest concern is whether NHTSA will choose to change tire registration back to a mandatory system incumbent on tire dealers. ``We fought for a voluntary system years ago,'' Mr. Kogel said. ``We want to keep it.''
The economy. Most experts predict the U.S. economy will remain soft through the first half of 2002. ``Lacking any stimulus to the economy, this will affect the tire industry in a significant way,'' Mr. Shea said.
The RMA supported the $218 billion economic stimulus package devised by the Republicans. That bill, which passed the House Dec. 20, among other things offered significant relief from the alternative minimum tax and a 30-percent depreciation bonus for new capital investments over the first three years. However, Senate Democrats were hostile to the package, saying it would only escalate the federal deficit.
``It's time for everyone to move forward and get a stimulus package through Congress,'' Mr. Shea said. ``We may be missing an opportunity.''
TANA and ITRA did not see the stimulus package as slanted particularly toward small business, but it did contain some provisions they wanted. One of these was a two-year extension of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives employers a tax credit from the first-year wages of new hires from various underprivileged groups.
``If we can't get the extension in the stimulus package, we'll have to go back to Congress and work for it separately,'' Mr. Littlefield said. But he saw the stimulus package as having virtually no chance, noting that Democrats said its passage would guarantee a federal deficit for the next 10 years.
The environment. The environment, for the RMA, is ``a cradle-to-grave issue'' because of scrap tires, according to Mr. Shea.
``The industry has responsibility for environmental issues vis-a-vis tires from manufacture to disposal,'' he said. The organization recently reaffirmed its commitment to scrap tire issues by creating a new department, Environmental and Resource Recovery, with Tracey Norberg as vice president and Michael Blumenthal as senior technical adviser.
Advising the states on effective scrap tire laws and programs is perhaps the main activity of the new department. ``It's fallacious to allow someone to do the arithmetic on environmental impact on only one end of the spectrum,'' Mr. Shea said. ``Taking a tire from the manufacturer through its useful life to disposal is the only complete picture.''
At ITRA, environmental efforts are devoted more to Superfund reform-an issue that is becoming urgent to tire dealers, retreaders and service stations, according to Mr. Littlefield. Of 2,100 companies caught up in the cleanup mess at the Beede Superfund site in Plastow, N.H., 1,400 are in the auto aftermarket, he said, including tire dealers from New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts.
``Environmentalists have said that the people who generate the waste should pay for the cleanup,'' he said. ``But these tire dealers disposed of their wastes legally, using haulers licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency, and they're still facing thousands of dollars in liability.''
ITRA was greatly encouraged by House passage of a bill combining small business liability exemptions for Superfund sites and for brownfields, or urban toxic waste sites. Mr. Littlefield hopes the bill can be combined in the Senate with legislation to allow small business exemptions on used oil disposal.
Ergonomics. All three associations are watching closely as the Bush administration plans its version of an ergonomics standard designed to prevent repetitive motion injuries and other ailments in the workplace.
At the behest of virtually all U.S. industry, Congress threw out the Clinton administration's ergonomics standard, invoking for the first time an obscure regulation called the Congressional Review Act.
``We're hopeful with the Bush administration that the new regulation will be much more business-friendly than the last,'' Ms. MacDicken said.