Ethanol, RFS top list of concerns
From tax policy to environmental regulations to the Renewable Fuel Standard, the government is making it more difficult to do business in the boating industry, say a majority of Boating Industry readers.
That’s according to the latest Boating Industry reader survey of dealers, manufacturers, suppliers and others in the industry. We asked the readers of our print and digital products about their top issues and gathered their insights on the role of government in the boating industry. The survey was conducted by email in February.
Fifty-six percent of readers said they are very concerned about the role of the government in their business, while another 31 percent said they were at least somewhat concerned.
A majority of respondents – 56 percent – said that government regulations have specifically hurt their ability to grow their business in the last year. They cited a variety of specific examples, but the most common impediments were environmental regulations, restricted access to fisheries, local zoning or permitting issues, and tax policies that have hurt their customers.
“The State of California just keeps closing more and more areas to fishing,” said a California-based manufacturer. “The only boat launch for miles in Newport Beach is closed 6 to 8 times over the summer for other events and the push for more and more environmental restrictions is killing us.”
That lack of access is an issue in many other parts of the country as well (see the Keep Florida Fishing article on p. 24), and several other respondents voiced concern about the limits being put on boaters and anglers from closed waterways to shortened seasons.
“Overly excessive policies … that have reduced size limits and fishing seasons discourage people from fishing,” said one New Jersey boat dealer.
At the same time, local permitting challenges are making growing business difficult, a challenge cited by marina owners, dealers and manufacturers in this year’s survey.
“The time and expense of permitting basic operations and maintenance are terribly high and uncertain,” said a Massachusetts-based supplier. “Investment in growth seems impossible to achieve.”
A marina construction firm echoed that sentiment: “Regulation at the state, [federal] and in some cases local departments take at least one year for simple projects such as repairs or replacements exactly as the dock is presently built. A new facility or changes to [an] existing facility will add anywhere from six months to three years. The typical new marina project takes two to four years to permit. Our industry is just behind getting a nuclear plant permitted!”
The most important result of all these challenges is that they are driving up the cost of doing business, and making boating less affordable. Dozens of respondents said they are concerned that government policies are making boating unattainable for the middle class.
“Environmental policies are increasing prices of boating beyond the average boater’s budget,” said a Virginia dealer, in a representative comment.
For more examples of these concerns and other top issues, see the sidebar on p. 21.
Ethanol No. 1 worry
Ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard are clearly the top concerns among regulatory issues.
Sixty percent of respondents said they are very concerned about challenges ethanol poses to their business, while another 35 percent are at least somewhat concerned. Ethanol was also picked by the most readers – 28 percent – as their top government and regulatory issue.
In their comments, readers mentioned a number of concerns, but the most notable worry is the potential for increased damage to boat engines and other components from misfueling with E15. The result, many said, will be boaters getting discouraged and leaving the sport.
“Repair costs have been rising and the additional expense of fuel system repairs due to ethanol has driven many from boat ownership,” said a Florida dealer. “Less boat owners means less business.”
Environmental regulations were second on the list of concerns, with 18 percent citing it as the most important issue for their business. Forty-three percent are very concerned about it and 98 percent are at least somewhat concerned – the highest total for any issue.
Tax policy was also a top concern, with 48 percent saying they were very concerned about it, and 94 percent being at least somewhat concerned. Seventeen percent said it was the most important issue to their business.
Water access rounded out the top four, with 14 percent citing it as the top issue. Forty-four percent said they were very concerned about it, while 91 percent said they were at least somewhat concerned.
No other issue was a top concern for more than 10 percent of respondents (see the full list above).
Realizing the effect these regulations can have on their businesses, many in the industry are making an effort to have their voices heard.
More than three-quarters of respondents said they have taken some sort of action in an attempt to affect public policy. Most notably, 56 percent have contacted an elected official to express their opinion on an issue, and 39 percent have met in person with an elected representative about policy issues.
Nearly half of readers said they have responded to a “call to action” from a trade association such as NMMA, MRAA or ASA to forward their opinions on to elected or regulatory officials.
Nineteen percent reported that they have attended a state legislative conference or meeting to learn more about issues impacting their business, and 9 percent have attended American Boating Congress in Washington, D.C.
Finally, 11 percent have financially supported BoatPAC, the political action committee of NMMA and MRAA, and 6 percent have signed up for Boating United, the industry’s grassroots lobbying effort.