Arkansas congressmen seek hearings on diesel prices

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The four House members from Arkansas on Thursday, April 3, called for congressional hearings into the high cost of diesel fuel that is harming top trucking firms in the state, the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas reported.

The written request to top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee comes as diesel prices hover near a record $4 per gallon. The prices adversely effect the U.S. economy, said 1st District Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, 2nd District Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, 3rd District Rep. John Boozman, R-Rogers, and 4th District Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott.

High fuel prices are forcing trucking companies out of business, the lawmakers reportedly said in their request. “As businesses across the country are forced to absorb the cost of surging diesel prices, it can be expected that the burden will ultimately fall on the consumer,” the lawmakers wrote. ” … It is imperative that Congress examine the ripple effects caused by record-high diesel fuel prices.”

The Morning News reported that the letter from the Arkansas lawmakers was sent to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of an investigations subcommittee on that panel; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The delegation’s action follows a March decision by the Arkansas Trucking Association to press for congressional hearings to investigate “record-high diesel fuel prices” that “threaten the cost-effective flow of goods in the United States and the general economy.” The association’s board of directors voted unanimously to seek congressional oversight hearings.

Lane Kidd, association president, said Congress should act now to ward off an economic crisis. “The damage these fuel prices are inflicting on the U.S. economy each day resembles a hurricane sweeping across our nation, and that could mean thousands of lost jobs and hundreds of closed businesses,” Kidd said.

The association’s board of directors includes senior executives from public trucking companies such as FedEx Freight, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, ABF Freight System, P.A.M. Transportation Services and USA Truck, as well as the transportation divisions of Wal-Mart Stores and Tyson Foods.

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On Tuesday, April 1, owner-operators across the country pulled their rigs off the road to protest skyrocketing diesel prices, and others slowed to a crawl on major highways. But the loosely organized protest appeared to be scattered because trucking companies were not on board and there did not appear to be any central coordination.

Teamsters officials told the Associated Press they had nothing to do with any kind of protests. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association told the AP that it didn’t organize anything; federal law prohibits the association from calling for a strike because it is a trade association.

The American Trucking Associations last week urged the Bush administration to act quickly to ensure that strategies are in place to ensure an affordable supply of oil for the nation’s 3.5 million truck drivers and American consumers. For some motor carriers, fuel is beginning to surpass labor as their largest expense, according to ATA; this ultimately will increase the cost of everything delivered by truck.

“The signs are troubling,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “We are concerned about fuel’s direct impact on our industry and also its effects on the nation’s economy. The industry is doing its part to conserve fuel, but we need help.”

ATA recently issued letters to President Bush, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Treasury Department requesting that immediate steps be taken. ATA urged Bush to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an attempt to break the current runup in crude oil prices before they further constrain the U.S. economy.

Top executives of the five biggest U.S. oil companies — Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips — told Congress Tuesday, April 1, they know high fuel prices are hurting consumers. But they deflected any blame and argued their profits — $123 billion last year — were in line with other industries.