HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.—It's quite the tarnished scorecard, if you can believe the statistics.
Thirty-six have been accused of spousal abuse. Nineteen have been accused of writing bad checks. Three have been imprisoned for assault, seven arrested for fraud, 14 for drugs, eight for shoplifting and 84 for drunk driving.
And that's not even counting 21 who are defendants in lawsuits, or 117 who either directly or indirectly bankrupted at least two businesses each.
Professional basketball players? National Football League players? Neither.
Roy Littlefield, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), decried this dubious record supposedly of the 535 members of the U.S. Congress—though it should be pointed out that the statistics have not all been substantiated and may not be current, according to a fact-checking source.
Mr. Littlefield cited the stats during a speech at the 29th annual Clemson University Tire Industry Conference, held April 24-26 at Hilton Head.
And perhaps more curious? After candidates spent $6 billion or more on the 2012 elections, the electorate responded by returning essentially the same legislative mix to Washington, Mr. Littlefield said during the speech.
“The same parties that have dictated the agenda for the past two years will continue to control the agenda for the next two years,” he said.
With that result, it's not surprising that the legislative impasse continues, according to Mr. Littlefield, a longtime observer and participant in the Washington, D.C., legislative scene. “I've never seen the divisions we have now. The age of courtesy and goodwill has just about disappeared.”
Mr. Littlefield blamed Congress and the White House equally for this situation.
“Barack Obama and John Boehner are in jobs that are beyond them,” he opined, quoting the legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel—”Can't anybody here play this game?”—to emphasize his point.
Meanwhile, the pending implementation of the Obama administration's healthcare legislation is causing headaches in general and for small business owners in particular. “The nation's governors are figuring out that Obamacare is an unworkable monstrosity,” he said.
Other important issues that could come to a vote in Congress, he said, include the estate tax, which TIA still hopes to see repealed; repeal of last-in, first-out accounting rules; various new transportation taxes; and state bills involving tire repair, tire aging and used tires.
“The industry must work together on legislative and regulatory issues,” he said. “The failure to work together could put the industry on the defensive for years to come.”
Fortunately, according to Mr. Littlefield, there is a good deal of cooperation among the different sectors of the tire industry. “The relationship between TIA and the RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association) is the best it's ever been,” he said.
Meanwhile, the RMA and its members are striving to shape their own future in the face of major new legislation and regulations, according to Tracey Norberg, RMA senior vice president and senior counsel who also spoke at the conference.
“When we look at the last four years, we see many new environmental regulations that put an increased burden on our industry,” Ms. Norberg said. “We need to reach out to lawmakers and show how legislation can be shaped to benefit the environment without unduly burdening industry.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) remains the most important regulatory agency for the tire industry, according to Ms. Norberg.
The August 2012 NHTSA rule, creating stringent new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for model year 2017 and beyond, are very important to the tire industry because of the rolling resistance demands it places on tire makers at the original equipment level, she said.
Speaking of rolling resistance, the industry is still waiting for NHTSA's tire labeling and consumer information proposals for the tire fuel efficiency final rule promulgated in March 2010, Ms. Norberg said.
According to NHTSA's latest projections, the proposals should be published in the Federal Register by Aug. 31, Ms. Norberg said, pointing out, however, that the agency's original deadline for these documents was Aug. 15, 2012.
“It's never good to say what will be in any regulation until it's published, but we have a fairly good idea what the labeling requirements will be,” Ms. Norberg said.
A rating system of one to five icons—which the RMA prefers—met with more favor in public surveys than the original 0-100 scale the agency proposed, she said. The icons probably will be tires rather than stars because the government prefers to save stars purely for safety ratings.
It is yet to be seen whether NHTSA will base its rolling resistance rating on the rolling resistance coefficient (RRC), which the RMA favors, or the rolling resistance force (RRF) numbers the agency originally proposed. Using the RRC instead of the RRF as the standard for measurement will ensure a more accurate rating system and a broader range of tire choices for consumers, Ms. Norberg said.
The RMA also hopes NHTSA will use the words “traction” and “treadwear” to denote the other ratings in the standard, rather than the vaguer, potentially misleading “safety” and “durability,” she said.
As well as the tire rolling resistance proposals, several pending issues involving chemicals are of major interest to tire makers, according to Ms. Norberg. These include:
c The Environmental Protection Agency's Existing Chemicals Work Plan, in which the EPA makes risk assessments of chemicals already in use to set agency priorities and plan future regulations;
c The California Safer Consumer Products Regulation, which would set a framework for identifying priority chemicals and require industries to seek alternatives; and
c The National Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens, because of the possibility that carbon black may be listed as a potential carcinogen.
The RMA remains the authoritative source on all subjects relating to scrap tires, as well as the chief advocate for their responsible reuse, Ms. Norberg said. Yet, from a peak of 89.3 percent in 2007, the percentage of annually generated scrap tires going to end-use markets fell to 81.6 percent in 2011.
“We're still trying to understand this,” she said. “We hope this will change as the economy improves.”
On the state legislative level, the RMA continues to advocate for passage in Texas of its model bill to prevent the sale of unsafe used tires, and in New York and Maryland of its bill to prevent improper tire repairs.