WASHINGTON Dairy farmers lost an effort in Congress on Thursday to allow bigger milk trucks on some highways, including major routes from New York through Pennsylvania.
In a defeat for its Republican chairman, the House Transportation Committee struck a provision from a five-year highway bill that could have enabled more trucks carrying milk from Northern New York to pass through Pennsylvania on the way to New York City or other big markets. The panel agreed instead to a study on the issue.
Cooperatives that bargain with plants on behalf of farmers had pushed for the higher weight limits, saying inconsistencies between Pennsylvania and neighboring states make hauling more time-consuming and expensive for farmers who already struggle to make a living.
Pennsylvania limits trucks on Interstate highways to 80,000 pounds gross weight, while New York allows trucks up to 99,000. Just nine states, also including Connecticut, maintain an 80,000-pound limit. In Maine and Vermont, a federal pilot program has allowed for increased truck weights on interstates.
Truck weight reform proves to be a responsible approach to raising truck weight limits to allow American businesses to meet demand with fewer trucks, thus removing unnecessary trucks from the highway, lessening our dependence on fossil fuels, reducing our carbon footprint and improving shipping productivity, said the National Milk Producers Federation in a letter this week to Rep. John R. Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
We are beyond additional studies and pilot programs. It is time for action now on truck weight reform, the NMPF wrote.
Mr. Mica included the provision but was brushed back by Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., who pushed for the study.
The provision is part of the Houses version of a five-year bill authorizing surface transportation programs. The bill differs considerably from the Senates two-year version and will likely have to be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee once each chamber approves its own bill; that process could be weeks or months off.
The inconsistencies among states has been an issue for several years, said Ronald C. Robbins, a Hounsfield dairyman whose farm does its own hauling rather than hiring that service. He ships his milk within New York, but if he wanted to ship to or through Pennsylvania, his trucks would have to unload some milk onto another truck at the border, or stick to state and municipal roads, Mr. Robbins said.
Hauling is a major expense for farmers, Mr. Robbins said, and not just because of rising fuel costs. Federal milk marketing rules dictate that farmers are responsible for the cost of hauling milk to the plant.
The varying limits among states costs farmer-owned cooperatives millions of dollars a year, said Robert J. Gray, executive director of the Council of Northeast Farmer Cooperatives. Co-ops ship Northeast milk to about 200 plants, a number of which are in Pennsylvania, Mr. Gray said.
The loss of the truck weight provision was also a blow to upstate New York lawmakers, including Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who mentioned it Wednesday as one of his priorities for the legislation.