Gasoline prices are near record highs, for a variety of reasons, ranging from jitters on world oil markets to long wait times at regional distribution terminals. Because of the changeover in gasoline specifications this year, tank truck drivers are experiencing unusually long waits to load fuel for retail deliveries, which has limited the number of shipments they can make in a day. That has lead to spot outages in many parts of the country (including around here).
To point out constructive ways that the Administration can act immediately to address this problem, and as a first step toward addressing the myriad factors driving up gasoline costs, Sen. Bingaman today asked Transportation Secretary Mineta to consider a temporary exemption on the maximum driving and “on-duty” time for truck drivers who haul gasoline to and from terminals and retail gasoline stations. The exemption would be in effect during the current fuel-switching period (from winter-grade to summer-grade gasoline) and would expedite fuel distribution.
Here is Sen. Bingaman’s letter:
April 24, 2006
The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta, Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
Dear Secretary Mineta:
Energy prices have reached record highs. Oil is trading above $75 per barrel and gasoline prices have risen 25 cents per gallon over the past two weeks to a national average of $2.91 per gallon. This sudden rise has been felt by all consumers as they fill up at the gas pump. In the Mid-Atlantic Region, consumers have also experienced fuel shortages at some retail outlets. These price rises, accompanied by a visible shortage of product, can lead consumers to hoard gasoline in anticipation of a wider shortage.
Nationally, terminal operators are currently in the process of switching to summer-grade gasoline. This transition is required by regulation to be complete by May 1, 2006. Many terminal operators are also switching their tanks from MTBE-blended gasoline to gasoline containing ethanol, and we expect that this process has affected the availability of supply. We understand that the supply shortages seen to date are due in part to the tank switching, limited fueling bays, and the long hours that tank truck drivers are waiting to fill up their tanks with product.
Under the circumstances, I believe it may be appropriate to waive the caps placed on driver service hours to address or prevent spot shortages during this transition period. This might be done either on a regional basis or nationwide, as developments in the market warrant. Last August, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took unilateral action to waive driver service hour regulations nationally in order to expedite fuel distribution. I request that you consider taking such action again in order to minimize disruptions to our nation’s fuel system. Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this request.
Ranking Democratic Member