Yogi Berra and the price of diesel fuel

DON'T sell Yogi Berra short. There is truth wrapped inside his famous malapropisms if we only look for it. As Yogi used to say, you can observe a lot just by watching.

Petroleum (gasoline and diesel), the fuel that propels our industry and our economy, is something that all of us consider critical — regardless of our political persuasions. But we have radically different views about petroleum-based motor fuels.

From at least the early 1970s, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) first placed an embargo on oil shipments, it has been obvious that America needs to do something about its thirst for petroleum. In the almost 40 years since then, we are more dependent than ever on imported oil. We have not been very effective in addressing our nation's strategic energy needs, particularly in regard to gasoline and diesel. To quote Yogi, we have made too many wrong mistakes.

We generally line up in two camps on this issue — those who advocate reducing our consumption and those who would like to see us increase our supply. But this isn't a fork in the road that requires choosing a left or right turn. We need to follow Yogi's advice and take the fork.

The recent joint rulemaking by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration moves us forward on the conservation side of the equation. The agencies recently published details of rulemaking that would mandate reductions in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings of 8,500 pounds or more. The early response to the proposal has been a qualified show of support from many in the trucking industry. Chassis manufacturers are guardedly optimistic that they can reach the standards through existing technology. The proposal also presents truck body and trailer manufacturers with an opportunity to help their customers boost fuel economy by reducing truck body and trailer tare weight and by improving aerodynamics.

Farther down the conservation fork of the road lie more advanced options for reducing consumption of petroleum. Hybrid trucks — both electric and hydraulic — are proving their capability in a variety of applications.

Even so, green remains more dream than reality. After decades of research, the purely electric truck is still impractical for anything other than niche operations. And ultimately, widespread use of electric vehicles presents environmental concerns. What do we do with millions of spent batteries? And what is the environmental benefit if we decrease our oil consumption by burning more coal to charge the batteries? Nobel Prizes are there for the taking if we can solve these problems. As Yogi has said, “I wish I had an answer to that because I'm tired of answering that question.”

Ultimately, hydrogen, solar, or other energy sources may be harnessed to fuel our vehicles. So far, though, these technologies have not been practical passenger cars, much less for commercial trucks. As Yogi would say, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

Until at least one of those future energy sources moves from theory to practice, trucks will run on diesel. We echo the sentiments of the American Trucking Associations when they called the Obama Administration's recent plans to scale back offshore oil drilling “a blow to American consumers.”

ATA knows that restricting supply raises prices. In 2008, trucks required 37.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel at a record cost of $142.9 billion. The record-high diesel prices experienced in 2008 contributed to 3,065 companies with five or more trucks going out of business, according to ATA.

The difficulty in getting permits to drill offshore has been a major blow to the domestic oil industry, but not everyone feels that way. One oil-related optimist is the subject of this month's cover story. A trailer manufacturer that also produces land-based drilling rigs, Loadcraft hopes the offshore problems will lead to an increase in onshore drilling.

There's plenty of politics built into our energy policy or lack thereof. The political left has its agenda; so does the political right. We need the best of both sides — research leading to new ways to fuel vehicles and an enlightened policy that insures our access to petroleum until the day comes when those new fuels are ready.

The trucking industry does a great job delivering the goods, and today it delivers them with diesel. We want our children and grandchildren to continue to benefit from a highly efficient network of motor carriers, private fleets, and work trucks, whether the fuel is diesel or something more exotic. We also want to have personal transportation options. It's like Yogi said, “I'm not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.”

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting trailer-bodybuilders.com and clicking on “Contact Us.”

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