Thursday, November 9, 2023 - 01:17pm

Gov. Doug Burgum is petitioning the federal government to reconsider a rule restricting governors’ ability to waive hours of service regulations for commercial truck drivers, repeating his concerns that the change will hurt farmers, ranchers and fuel distributors and make it harder to meet the needs of citizens during weather-related emergencies.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration finalized the rule on Oct. 15 regarding governors’ authority to waive hours of service regulations during a declared state of emergency.

As originally proposed, the rule would have shortened the maximum duration of the waiver from 30 days to just five days, while also limiting the scope of which FMCSA regulations can be waived under a state-issued waiver. The final rule maintains the 30-day waiver for presidentially declared emergencies, but it narrows state-issued waivers to 14 days and further limits the FMCSA regulations that are automatically exempted under a state-issued waiver.

Burgum opposed the proposed rule change in a Feb. 6 letter to FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson, saying it “would severely impact operations in North Dakota during emergencies and have a direct impact on all citizens of our great state.” He reiterated those concerns in a letter to Hutcheson today.

“This isn’t about letting truck drivers work longer hours in December so they can deliver enough toys to stores to make sure all the kids get Christmas presents,” Burgum said today, referring to one example cited by FMCSA to suggest that governors are abusing the waiver process. “In North Dakota, the ability to waive hours of service quickly during an emergency without having to slog through a sea of bureaucratic red tape can literally mean the difference between life and death or the loss of someone’s livelihood. While we appreciate that FMCSA abandoned its five-day proposal, the 14-day waiver period is still too short, and we urge FMCSA to restore the 30-day waiver authority.”

Since taking office in December 2016, Burgum has issued hours of service waivers, or waiver extensions, a total of 28 times, with 19 of those waivers being for 30 days or more. The governor noted that in just the last two years, he issued three executive orders to waive hours of service for haulers of propane, gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil, and six additional orders for haulers of agricultural inputs, fertilizer, milk for students, rural electric workers and haulers of hay, water and livestock.

“As an agricultural state, these executive orders are carefully considered and determined necessary to combat significant winter storms, drought and staff shortages in the CDL industry that last longer than the 14-day anticipated change,” Burgum stated in today’s letter. “North Dakota heavily depends on CDL drivers, and as a rural state, it is critical that we be able to move products and get resources to where they are needed most.”