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Editor's Notebook

In the Face of Reason

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We know they aren’t very bright, and many of their ideas prove that if you don’t

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know where you’re going, any road will take you there. But still we elect these people. And re-elect them.

With TV cameras and microphones in their faces, these officials are the picture of vast knowledge and heartfelt concern for the common man. In reality, their "knowledge" was jotted on 3×5 cards by staff assistants who did a little reading. The heartfelt concern is all about getting exposure … there’s always an election coming around, you know.

Cynical? Why, yes. But oh so true. We know that when these makers of mandates get their teeth into something they know nothing about anything can happen – and usually does. If the tire hearings in 2000 didn’t convince you of this, nothing will.

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Three recent examples impacting the tire industry – two in California and one in New York – show just how badly elected (and appointed) officials need a real tire education. Or, at least, some experience running their own businesses.

"Californians can save 300 million gallons of gasoline each year!" California Assemblyman Joe Nation, a Democrat (not that it matters) from San Rafael, proclaimed in support of his bill mandating that all replacement tires sold in his state be at least as fuel efficient as OE tires.

Blinded, apparently, by the TV lights, Nation offered no verifiable statistical support for his sensationalistic statement.

Nation’s pipe dream would require extensive tire testing, a fuel efficiency rating system, blah, blah, blah – all at additional costs to California consumers and tiremakers. Oh, and all of this must "be technically feasible and cost efficient," "not adversely affect tire safety," and "not adversely affect the average tire life of replacement tires." Good luck with that, Rep. Nation.

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Apparently Nation thinks California can magically suspended the laws of physics and chemistry – you can decrease rolling resistance without any sacrificing traction or tread life!

Also not addressed in his hair-brained scheme: Who ultimately determines which tires are "fuel efficient," and on what basis? Exactly how will the state determine the fuel efficiency of OE tires? Or control what vehicles are sold there? What would prevent folks from making out-of-state or Internet tire buys? And if consumers can’t afford "fuel efficient" replacement tires, which will surely be more expensive, how many will be injured or killed in accidents caused by worn out treads?

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Nation’s notion has twisted science and logic so much, Gumby is screaming. Missing, as you’d expect, are the real tangible, doable and free things that can be done – inflation, rotation, alignment. Heaven forbid residents exercise a little tire care. How many gallons of gas would that save?

If passed, all of this silliness would take effect July 1, 2006. Already heavily amended by the state senate’s Appropriations Committee, AB 844 was scheduled for hearings Aug. 18.

Because we’re talking about California here, the odds are favorable that the bill will be signed into law. This is a state, after all, where you can’t smoke anywhere, but every freeway is packed with smog-spewing commuters – one to a car.

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Despite pleas by California retreaders and TRIB (albeit, at the eleventh hour), the state’s new waste tire manifest program kicked in July 1. Created by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), this business-unfriendly program promises to triple the amount of paperwork required by anyone who hauls more than 10 scrap tires – especially retreaders ®€“ and add extensive cost to their operations!

In short, the waste tire manifest program requires that anyone who transports 10 or more scrap or used tires to complete two manifests and one trip log detailing each tire’s point of origin, final destination and everyone who touched it in between. Failure to comply will bring a fine of up to $25,000 per day per violation!

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A couple of fires at illegal tire dumps a few years ago brought about knee-jerk legislation that included this whiz-bang idea. And, in fairness to the CIWMB, the manifest program change was part of a law passed a couple of years ago.

Still, tire dealers and retreaders in the state have complained loudly about the additional time, manpower and costs they would incur – with no offsetting revenue – to meet the program’s unwieldy requirements.

Some retreaders say they’ll have to spend $1,600 to $3,000 per month extra in additional manpower just to do paperwork. As anyone but the CIWMB knows, retreaders work on razor thin margins. Added costs like this will shut guys down, giving California an even bigger scrap tire problem. See the irony here?

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And for what? Californians generate some 33 million scrap tires each year, according to the CIWMB, and 75% of those were diverted to reuse markets. Even though CIWMB doesn’t say many of those were retreadable commercial tires, that’s a recycling success rate of which to be proud.

But when it comes to the remaining 25% of scrap tires, the CIWMB waffles wildly. "That leaves an estimated 8.4 million tires that are disposed around the state, many of them legally stored and some of them not," the board says in its own back-patting news release.

"From 1991 to 2001, the state doubled the number of waste tires recycled. But even with such an impressive diversion rate, the state must still contend with an estimated 300,000 surplus tires currently littering the state."

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Okay, so the CIWMB is worried about 300,000 tires – less than 1% of all the scrap tires Californians generate annually. And they still don’t know how many of those are retreadable commercial tires.

Looking at this another way, instead of finding additional tire recycling opportunities, budget-busted California is going to spend millions of tax dollars and triple the hand-numbing paperwork (and willingly put people out of business) to track each and every tire – from cradle to grave, and all points in between ®€“ so it can solve a 1% problem? All so it will know whom to blame if a single tire ever ends up in an illegal dump?

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Yeah, now that you look at it that way, it really makes sense!

TRIB and a number of left coast retreaders went to the CIWMB seeking a paperwork burden reprieve, using the hard-to-believe argument that retreaders were actually in the business of recycling tires, not creating illegal stockpiles.

TRIB Managing Director Harvey Brodsky offered that the sum total of scrap tires illegally dumped by California retreaders in a year would fit in the truck of his car with room to spare. Harvey has a very small car.

"I absolutely stand by that statement and challenge the CIWMB to produce evidence to the contrary," Brodsky said in a letter to a board official.

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Not knowing anything about retreading, let alone what it takes to run a small business, the dim-bulb CIWMB political appointees turned down the retreaders’ plea for relief from this administrative nightmare. So TRIB has threatened a lawsuit to stop the manifest program, and one unnamed California retreader has stepped up to help pay for legal assistance.

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Not wanting to give ground to California on the ignorance front, legislators on the other coast are publicly plundering millions of dollars from scrap tire abatement funds to cover shortfalls in state general operating budgets.

Of course, this really amounts to lying to tax-paying consumers through tire dealers, but who’s counting?

Legislators overrode New York Gov. George Pataki’s veto and enacted its Waste Tire Management and Recycling Act of 2003, which creates a $2.50 per new tire fee (replacement and OE) supposedly to help clean up the state’s 50 million scrap tires. This was in addition to an existing per tire assessment.

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On the face of it, it’s an OK plan. New York has a huge scrap tire problem (see California, you’re small taters). The fee would raise an estimated $56 million, which would go a long way toward dealing with the cumbersome problem.

Except that most of this $56 million in faux-taxes isn’t going to tire recycling programs or to clean up landfills. In fact, only $16 million of that windfall is earmarked for abatement projects.

The rest of this boondoggle is going straight to the state’s general fund!

Plus, in a round about way, the new law says New York tire dealers can’t back charge customers to cover the tipping fees they pay to safely dispose of take-offs. New York dealers are now going to have to learn to lie like New York politicians, or risk losing profits on every sale.

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The RMA supported the bill despite its obvious shortfalls as it was better than Pataki’s original plan which would have diverted 80% to the general fund.

But dealers are puzzled by RMA’s support of this "don’t look behind the curtain" bill, especially since it financially slams them and fails miserably at raising enough revenue to improve the state’s scrap tire situation.

(TIA and the New York Tire Dealers Association are holding a meeting Sept. 9 on this issue. Call Richard Van Allen at 631-789-9505 for info.)

Something is never better than nothing, especially if that something just isn’t right.

But most of these mind-boggling "somethings" start at the ballot box.

That’s where they should end, as well.

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