Trucking Industry Likes Higher Fuel Prices — When They Help Truckers

To hear American Trucking Association (ATA) vice chairman Barbara Windsor tell the Senate environment panel today, truckers would face a grim economic future if the price of diesel fuel rises, as the ATA predicts would happen if Congress passes climate change legislation.

windsor1.jpgBarbara Windsor of the ATA, at right, with Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO). (Photo: ATA)
"If we have to add costs for diesel, I think we'd have a decline in jobs," Windsor told Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the senior Republican on the environment committee.

But for the ATA, more expensive diesel fuel isn't always a bad thing -- only when it results from putting a price on carbon.

The truckers' group supports increasing the federal diesel fuel tax, which has remained static for 16 years at 24 cents per gallon, but only "so long as the revenue is not diverted to other causes," as ATA's chairman explained this month.

So the ATA is in favor of putting a price on high-emissions diesel fuel, but only when the resulting revenue is used to advance transportation policies that meet with the trucking industry's approval. What makes the truckers different, then, from any other D.C. interest group that lobbies tooth and nail for its own bottom line?

For one, the ATA-endorsed claim that the climate bill amounts to a "$3.6 trillion gas tax" uses inflated estimates that differ markedly from those used by the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Both the CBO and EPA have found that acting on climate change would lead to fuel price increases of around 25 cents per gallon by 2030. Meanwhile, diesel prices rose by 56 cents per gallon over a span of just three months this spring, a phenomenon the ATA chalked up to oil speculators. (The ATA has yet to endorse Rep. Pete DeFazio's [D-OR] proposal to tax oil speculators to pay for infrastructure improvements.)

Secondly, Windsor told the Senate today that as an alternative to passing the climate bill, the ATA would support continued use of SmartWay, a voluntary emissions reduction incentive program created by the trucking industry and the EPA. In fact, SmartWay is expanded in the Senate climate bill, with a competitive financing program established for the EPA to reward commercial shippers that use cleaner transportation methods.

Of course, such SmartWay financing would likely benefit electrified freight rail as a workable alternative to trucking, which now carries more than 80 percent of the nation's freight, according to Windsor. Freight rail also stands to gain from the climate bill's set-aside of nearly 3 percent of emissions "allowance revenue" for greener transport.

Perhaps, then, the prospect of competing with freight rail is driving the trucking industry's climate stance as much as any anticipated increase in diesel prices.