Maine Trails, June - July '08
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Guest Column: Rep. Tom Allen
Guest Column: Senator Susan Collins

Driving down the cost of diesel fuel for our truckers

By U.S. Senator Susan Collins

The skyrocketing price of diesel fuel is putting an increasing strain on our trucking industry. To illustrate the problem, consider this fact: in 1999, a Maine truck driver could purchase $500 of diesel fuel and drive from Augusta all the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today, a driver who purchases $500 of diesel and leaves Augusta would not even make it to Altoona, Pennsylvania, and because diesel prices continue to increase, the problem is only getting worse.

I recently met with Kurt Babineau, a small business owner and second generation logger and trucker from the Penobscot County town of West Enfield. Like so many of our truckers, Kurt has been struggling with the increasing costs of running his operation. All of the pulpwood his business produces is transported to Verso Paper in Jay, a 165-mile roundtrip. This would be a considerably shorter trip except that current federal law forbids trucks weighing more than 80,000 ponds from driving on I-95 north of Augusta. Instead, these heavy trucks are forced off the modern four-lane, limited-access highway and onto smaller, two-lane secondary roads that pass through cities, towns, and villages.

This law not only increases the distance that trucks must travel, it increases their travel time and results in a higher consumption of diesel fuel. In fact, Kurt estimates that permitting his trucks to travel on all of I-95 would save him 118 gallons of fuel each week. At approximately $4.50 a gallon, and including savings from his drivers spending less time on the trip, he could save more than $700 a week, and more than $33,000 and 5,600 gallons of fuel each year. These savings would not only be beneficial to Kurt’s bottom line, but also to his employees, his customers, and to our nation as we look for ways to decrease the overall fuel consumption.

To help provide assistance to our truckers, I recently introduced the Commercial Truck Fuel Savings Demonstration Act, with Senator Olympia Snowe cosponsoring the bill. Our legislation would create a two-year pilot program that would permit trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds to travel on the federal interstate system whenever diesel prices are at or above $3.50 a gallon.

Permitting trucks to carry up to 100,000 pounds on federal highways would lessen the fuel cost burden on truckers in three ways. First, raising the weight limit would allow more cargo to be put into each truck, thereby reducing the numbers of trucks needed to transport goods. Second, trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds would no longer need to move off the main federal highways where trucks are limited at 80,000 pounds and take less direct routes on local roads requiring considerably more diesel and extended periods of idling during each trip. Finally, trucks traveling on the interstate system would save on fuel costs due to the much superior road design of the interstate system as compared to the state and local roads.

Trucking is the cornerstone of our economy, as most of our goods are transported by trucks at some point in the supply chain. Some independent truckers here in Maine have already been forced out of business due to rising fuel costs. More businesses are facing a similar fate, if relief is not provided. The Commercial Truck Fuel Savings Demonstration Act offers an immediate and cost-effective way to help our nation’s struggling trucking industry and individual drivers like Kurt Babineau.

While the debate in Congress and across the country continues, soaring energy prices are becoming an increasing burden for our nation’s trucking industry, and that passes even more burden onto consumers. While some talk only about the problems, my legislation is one solution to provide immediate relief for an already struggling industry and the poor economy.

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Guest Column: Rep. Tom Allen | Page 7 of 7 | Guest Column: Senator Susan Collins