A defining move

FMCSA sends an interim final rule on agricultural commodity definitions to the White House for review.

November 2020

Mark Schremmer

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is moving forward with a rule regarding the hours of service in relation to the transportation of agricultural commodities.

An interim final rule was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review on Sept. 30. OMB allows for up to 90 days for review. If cleared, the rule will be published in the Federal Register and made public.

Back in July 2019, FMCSA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking seeking public comments on the definitions of “agricultural commodity” or “livestock” in the hours-of-service regulations.

After an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, the typical next step is for an agency to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking. However, the FMCSA has elected to move forward with an interim final rule in this instance.

According to the Federal Register an interim final rule is defined as:

“When an agency finds that it has good cause to issue a final rule without first publishing a proposed rule, it often characterizes the rule as an ‘interim final rule,’ or ‘interim rule.’ This type of rule becomes effective immediately upon publication. In most cases, the agency stipulates that it will alter the interim rule if warranted by public comments. If the agency decides not to make changes to the interim rule, it generally will publish a brief final rule in the Federal Register confirming that decision.”

FMCSA’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking accepted public input until Sept. 27, 2019.

The agency said the notice was prompted by indications that the current definitions of “agricultural commodity” and “livestock” may not be understood or enforced consistently when determining whether the ag haulers’ hours-of-service exemption applies.

“FMCSA has worked closely with the agriculture industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in crafting this advance notice,” then-FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said in July 2019. “We have heard concerns from the industry, and we are acting. We encourage all commercial motor vehicle stakeholders, especially those involved in transporting agricultural commodities and livestock, to provide valuable feedback on how the current definitions impact safety, compliance and enforcement.”

The current definition of “agricultural commodity” refers to any agricultural commodity, nonprocessed food, feed, fiber or livestock.”

Feedback

The agency received 145 comments on the notice. Many of those comments, which came mostly from agricultural associations and individuals, supported efforts to provide clarity and consistency to the definition and exemptions.

OOIDA said it supported updating and harmonizing the definition of “agricultural commodity” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The definition should include any and all species and/or products that fall under the current ELD exemption as approved by Congress,” OOIDA wrote. “The agency can provide more clarity to commercial motor vehicle drivers who transport such commodities, the motor carriers who employ them, growers or distributors of those commodities, and enforcement personnel by updating and harmonizing this definition.”

Ag haulers bill

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., introduced the Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety (HAULS) Act in late September. The bill would eliminate the requirement that hours-of-service exemptions for ag and livestock haulers only apply during state-designated planting and harvesting seasons. It would also amend and clarify the definition of agricultural commodities and authorize a 150 air-mile exemption from hours-of-service requirements on the destination side of a load for ag and livestock haulers.

“Ag and livestock haulers are essential to ensuring Nebraska food and fuel make it across the country,” Fischer said in a news release. “Their vital work has been further highlighted by their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud to introduce the HAULS Act, which builds on my previous work to ensure ag and livestock haulers can continue feeding our nation.” LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.