Tolling, Commercialization, Swipe Fees: NATSO Responds to Challenges in 2012

If there was ever a year when NATSO was challenged on all of its major issues, it was 2012. NATSO's top issues--rest area commercialization, tolling and credit card swipe fees--were all in play throughout the year, with a big test early in the year on the rest area commercialization issue. And though we passed the test, there is always more to be done. But NATSO moves into 2013 with optimism and momentum in a positive direction, committed to continue protecting the interests of Interstate-based businesses. 

Rest Area Commercialization: As we look back over the year, the first big challenge came early in the year when Ohio Senator Rob Portman (R) filed an amendment to the Senate transportation bill to commercialize rest areas. In the nearly 50-years of NATSO defending the commercialization ban, the Portman amendment resulted in a first-ever vote on the issue, and the amendment was overwhelmingly defeated 86-12. Senate offices reported being overwhelmed with phone calls and emails asking that the amendment be defeated. There is no question that this victory could not have been accomplished without the response of NATSO members and the Save Highway Communities coalition. This victory in the Senate helped stop a similar amendment in the House of Representatives from being considered when a transportation bill was finally passed later in the year. 

Congress will most likely begin working on another transportation bill in 2013. While NATSO will have to educate new members of Congress, we are hopeful that the Senate vote will put the idea of commercializing rest areas to rest

Tolling: NATSO has partnered with the American Trucking Association to lead the fight against tolling on the Interstate Highway System on a nationwide basis, as well as in Virginia and North Carolina. Under a Federal Highway Administration PIlot (FHWA) program that allows tolling on existing interstates in up to three different states, Virginia and North Carolina have aggressively sought FHWA approval. While Missouri also holds a slot in the pilot program, the legislature has halted the state's Department of Transportation from taking further action to finalize FHWA approval. 

In 2012, the industry had small victories. In North Carolina, the state budget legislation contained a provision that requires the state to perform an additional study on the impact of tolling I-95 and prohibits tolling for two years. This allows for additional time to educate lawmakers about the negative effects of tolls on interstate-based businesses. However, the coming year will be pivotal in both North Carolina and Virginia. North Carolina's governor-elect made campaign promises not to toll road, and constituents will need to hold him to his promise. In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell is still pursuing his tolling plan, so lawmakers and citizens will need to keep up the fight in state's general assembly and into their 2013 governor election. 

Highway Funding: Transportation funding will be the focus of the next highway bill and lawmakers have said all funding options are on the table. NATSO will be working with the Board of Directors and Government Affairs Committee to refine its position on the fuel tax, and will aggressively oppose any expansion of tolls. 

While a number of states continue to look to tolls to fund infrastructure projects, lawmakers at both the federal and state level have said they will consider raising fuel taxes. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, a Democrat on the House Budget Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, said President Obama should support a fuel tax increase. In addition, Rep. Bill Shuster (R.-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said he would put all funding options on the table, including raising fuel taxes. 

Swipe Fee Litigation: For several years, major retailers and several trade associations have been embroiled in anti-trust litigation against Visa and MasterCard over interchange fees. The case took an unexpected turn in July when class counsel accepted a settlement offer from the credit card companies despite opposition from most of the plaintiffs, including NATSO. In addition to the 10 class plaintiffs, 1,200 other merchants, associations and American Express objected to the settlement, which would result in a payment $7.2 billion settlement, and recently received preliminary approval of a federal judge. 

NATSO and other plaintiffs are no longer represented by class counsel, and continue to oppose the settlement because it does nothing to fix the broken system, which was the plaintiffs' original reason for filing the suit. The only winners under the settlement agreement are lawyers and credit card companies. If the agreement achieves final approval, Visa and MasterCard will be legally protected against future lawsuits for anti-competitive behavior. Finally, even if Visa and MasterCard will pay out $7.2 billion dollars to settle the case, there is nothing that prevents them from hiking swipe fees in the future to recoup the settlement costs, as well as the significant fees paid to class counsel if the settlement agreement achieves final approval. 

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court denied an appeal by the majority of the plaintiffs, including NATSO, aimed at blocking the preliminary approval of the settlement. The court action will put a hold on all appeals until the settlement receives final approval, which is not expected until September 2013. 

Renewable Fuels Standard: Several oil industry, consumer and restaurant groups expressed their concern over the Renewable Fuels Standard in 2012. The National Council of Chain Restaurants called for a repeal of the standard and AAA called for a halt in the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol. The American Petroleum Institute recently filed a lawsuit challenging EPA’s mandate of 1.28 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2013, which is 28 percent higher than in 2012. 

The RFS was launched in 2005 to ensure that renewable fuels were blended into the nation’s motor vehicle fuel supply. In 2007, RFS2 raised the requirements for specific annual volumes of renewable fuels. Current law requires that the 2013 fuel supply contain 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels. EPA also will require 1.28 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel fuel to be introduced into the national fuel supply in 2013. 

Natural Gas: Over the last year, major truckstop chains have rolled out natural gas fueling infrastructure for both compressed and liquefied natural gas and will continue to do so in 2013. Pilot Flying J, through a partnership with Clean Energy Fuels, will be offering liquified natural gas at 150 locations by 2013, with nearly 70 locations complete by the end of 2012. TravelCenters of America has partnered with Shell to install 200 liquefied natural gas dispensers at 100 locations by 2013. Love's Truck Stops has installed compressed natural gas at locations in areas where there is market demand, specifically Oklahoma and Texas. In addition, independent operators have indicated their interest in offering natural gas to trucking fleets, and many are exploring partnerships. 

In 2012, the Natural Gas Act, which would have subsidized infrastructure, did not advance through Congress. Future legislation will likely focus on streamlining regulations on both the federal and state level. Debates will likely focus on whether states or the federal government should be the regulatory authority. 

During The NATSO Show 2013, attendees will learn more about the future of natural gas and how to take advantage of it in the session, Natural Gas: What’s Ahead for Travel Plazas and Truckstops. Panelists include Martin Hollander of AMP Americas LLC, Allen Nielsen of refrigerated carrier C.R. England, Greg Roche of Clean Energy Fuels, and Michael Williams of LNG for Transport for Shell Americas.



This article originally ran in NATSO News Weekly (NNW), NATSO's member only weekly electronic newsletter. NNW is packed with the latest updates on government and business issues affecting the truckstop and travel plaza industry.

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Holly Alfano's photo

Holly Alfano

Holly Alfano joined NATSO in April 2007, and represents the association’s interests on Capitol Hill covering petroleum, transportation and tax issues. Before joining NATSO, Alfano had worked on behalf of the petroleum industry for 16 years, first as executive director of the Louisiana Oil Marketers and Convenience Store Association, and then as vice president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. More
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