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Proposal to alter Oklahoma trucking regulation dies, but not without some fireworks

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Proposed legislation that would take the Oklahoma Corporation Commission out of the regulation of some aspects of trucking in the Sooner State died last week in a state House of Representatives committee, setting off an angry blog post by the bill’s author.

The bill would have taken the OCC out of any involvement in regulating trucks—it has a particularly large role in adjudicating violations through its extensive court-like system—and turned everything over to the state’s Department of Public Safety.  

After easily clearing the Senate, the bill sponsored by Senator Mark Allen died in a House committee last week. Allen’s sponsorship of the bill raised eyebrows, given his ownership of Allen Rathole, a trucking company that serves the oil and gas industry.

Prior to the bill’s demise in the House, Allen posted on his blog what could best be described as a response to the controversy over his sponsorship, as well as attacking certain individuals by name.

Chief among them was Lynne Jones, the interim director of the OCC’s transportation division. Also coming in for criticism was Jim Newport, the president and CEO of the Oklahoma Trucking Association, which never explicitly opposed the bill but which supplied a template to its members to be sent to their respective legislators. The wording of the letter left little doubt that the Oklahoma Trucking Association had major issues with the Allen proposal.

In the blog post, Allen criticizes Jones for her role as a board member of HELP, a non-profit that owns PrePass, which has developed products that enable trucks to be weighed by means other than the traditional weight station. He also notes that Newport is a board member of HELP.

On HELP’s web page, its board is describes as being “comprised of both public officials and private industry representatives.” “The Board provides general oversight of PrePass programs and HELP initiatives, authorizes new technology and system enhancements, and plays a key role in developing best practices to assist carriers and states to maximize the use of PrePass,” the site says.

The Allen blog says the OCC regulates HELP, and works with PrePass on weigh station bypass.

“There is no doubt in my mind that a regulator serving on the board of a private company it regulates is a clear conflict of interest, especially when that company has competition in the market and the regulator is in a position to erect roadblocks, delay or stop the ability of a competitor to enter the market,” Allen wrote in his blog posting, which is structured more like a news story than a blog entry.

He then points to the case of a company named Drivewyze, which also is involved in alternatives to traditional bricks-and-mortar weigh stations. Allen claims that Drivewyze has been attempting to work with the OCC since July 2015 to implement the Drivewyze program in the state. He says Drivewyze is still not operational in Oklahoma though this map on the Drivewyze website appears to indicate that it is accepted at several locations in the state.

Allen said HELP receives $15,000 each year from Oklahoma in annual membership dues.

The opposition to the bill, Allen wrote, is that the OCC “stands to lose revenue if the bill were to pass.”  “It’s such a common sense proposal, there’s just no reasonable explanation for this much political opposition unless it’s the loss of a considerable amount of revenue and/or control,” Allen said.

Todd Hiett, an OCC commissioner, told Freightwaves that the issue of Jones’ board membership with HELP first came up two years ago, “and it was thoroughly vetted.”

Hiett said he was “somewhat familiar” with the relationship between Oklahoma and Drivewyze and that he believes there has been some difficulties in launching the Drivewyze system in Oklahoma. But he said the OCC supports use of the system, which would be a competitor to PrePass. “We want as many offerings as we can have in the state of Oklahoma,” Hiett said. 

Doug Johnson, the director of marketing for Drivewyze, told Freightwaves in an email that the MOU has been in place since December 2015 with the Department of Public Safety, not the OCC, for weights and measures. Drivewyze is working at 12 of what Johnson called mobile inspection locations, which are not the same as the fixed weigh stations that are operated by OCC.

“Drivewyze has been been trying to work with the OCC to add bypass support at their fixed weigh station locations, in addition to the 12 mobile sites we support in Oklahoma,” Johnson said. “The reason OCC has given us for not being able to schedule onsite testing and resolution of technical issues for the last three years is lack of resources.”

Allen’s blog rejected criticism that the bill was tailor-made to ease his own regulatory burden at Allen Rathole. Calling it “ludicrous,” he said Allen Rathole “would of course be subject to the same laws as all the other businesses.”

A spokesman for the OCC said Allen’s charges are “not new. He’s raised them time and time again.”

The OCC has the “toughest ethics policy in the state,” the spokesman said. Members of the OCC, or the professional staff, can receive no gifts from anyone, “not even a cup of coffee.”

Newton did not reply to phone messages or an email query.

Allen’s blog—which was his first public statement on the legislation posted on his website—repeats arguments he presumably made for the legislation, which easily passed in both an Oklahoma Senate committee as well as a the full Senate before dying in the lower chamber.

The main thrust is that by folding everything under the Department of Public Safety, it would create a “trucking one-stop shop,” which he said is the case in most other states.

Hiett addressed the question of “one-stop shopping.” He said it is not a criticism he has heard from people in the industry. “They always preferred the system that we offer in handling citations,” he said. “But it is a criticism I have heard from Senator Allen.”

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.