John Chafee's success as a legislator helped change the way the rubber industry operates. One of his failures did, too. The Rhode Island senator, who died Oct. 24 at age 77, helped lead the creation and passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. That law tightened pollution emission standards for all of industry, the rubber business included.
The following year, Chafee turned his attention to scrap tires. He wanted to get rid of used tires in a productive manner, and used his political clout to get a provision added to a big federal transportation bill requiring states to use asphalt rubber on projects supported by federal funds. States would have to increase asphalt rubber use 5 percent a year, to 20 percent by fiscal 1997.
That didn't sit well with state officials or conventional asphalt manufacturers. They didn't like the higher cost of asphalt rubber, and went to war against the provision.
The fight went on and on. The anti-asphalt rubber forces succeeded in preventing the U.S. highway department from funding enforcement of the quota. Ultimately, it was killed.
The outcome showed a government mandate can't be expected to solve the scrap tire problem, and that no single solution exists for getting rid of used tires. But things have changed since then.
The tire industry for most of its history ignored the piles of used tires mushrooming throughout the country. Now the tire makers recognize government will step in if serious efforts aren't made to solve the problem, and they support efforts to improve tire recycling.
There's a long way to go to solve the scrap tire problem, but at least we're on the road. Chafee's actions helped bring the issue to the forefront, where it should have been all along.