As generations of regulators have learned, deregulation is a lovely concept--as long as it doesn't cost anyone anything. But when you deal with a regulated industry like trucking, where one business's profit is another's loss, any regulatory change is going to cost somebody. And that somebody is going to howl. A lot of howling is expected at the Interstate Commerce Commission meeting tomorrow, howling from the people who pay to ship goods from one place to another (shippers), howling from the companies that handle the shipments (carriers) and howling from some of the people who drive the trucks (independent truckers).

The ICC is holding a hearing on its proposal to end the surcharge rules enacted during the 1979 fuel shortage, when truckers were striking because the ICC couldn't grant rate increases fast enough to keep up with rising fuel costs. Back then, the agency solved the problem by requiring shippers to pay a surcharge based on the value of their shipments. This amount was supposed to be divided equitably between the trucker and carrier. The surcharge eventually rose to 18 percent, a figure that groups like the National Association of Manufacturers say far exceeds fuel cost increases.

Now the ICC is proposing to end the surcharge and make trucking companies ask for rate increases in the old way. The hitch, for the NAM, is that the ICC would allow carriers to add the current 18 percent surcharge into their base rates--making any existing inequities permanent.

But wait. Independent truckers are yelling that the surcharge, far from being too much, doesn't even cover their overall costs, which have gone up, they say, to about $1 a mile. It shouldn't be eliminated, they say, it should be increased.

It's up to the ICC to figure out how these groups divide up the pie.