Sunday, April 6, 2008

Truckers protesting diesel prices in WV: A frustrating sign of the times

While checking the Web site of one of my hometown’s newspapers, The Charleston Daily Mail, I ran across an article regarding the effect of high petroleum prices on the West Virginia trucking industry. (Link: “Truckers converging on Capitol in diesel protest”)

This article reports that convoys of hundreds of truckers from around the state planned to converge at the State Capitol building in Charleston, WV, in protest of the soaring price of diesel fuel. The trucking industry is no doubt hurting from the current fuel prices, and that pain gets spread around to anyone dependent on trucking, which is essentially everyone in this country. What struck me about this article is that the truckers decided to converge on the state Capitol…as if the state government can do anything to significantly lower diesel prices. It is noted in passing that one of the organizers “realizes not much can be done at the state level,” but overall the organizers and protesters sound like they want some action from the state government, particularly the governor and the state legislature, as well as the federal government. As one of the organizers states, “We just want the government to do something…We don’t have the power, but Congress and the president does.”

I think the appropriate response by the state government would be for the governor to stick his head out of a window in the Capitol dome, pull out a bullhorn and yell, “Wake up people! There will be no more cheap diesel! We all need to find a cheaper way to transport goods, and we need to be able to transport fewer goods, shorter distances. If you won’t help us, somebody else will. Now go home…and I suggest you carpool or take a bus.”

The truckers won’t get any meaningful help from the state or the federal government. Even if both the state and the federal fuel taxes were repealed altogether, the cost of diesel would still be rising. Furthermore, if the U.S. president or Congress did have an available solution to lower fuel prices, you would not see President Bush begging the Saudis for more oil production. These protesting truckers are just one example of what happens when no one in the government takes the initiative to tell the population what is really going on in regards to fuel prices. One of the truckers state, “It’s not just me either; we’re out here for the public, too. The average person can’t spend 80 to 100 dollars a week on gas.” No kidding! The average person should not be spending $100 per week on gas. The average person should be driving a smaller car and should commute fewer miles for work. These are primarily personal choices, but there are things our government could have done twenty years ago to enable a more fuel efficient society today (e.g. mandate higher gas mileage, build fewer expressways to the suburbs and more mass transit options, etc.). Up until now, our country has been spoiled by cheap fuel prices and our collective lack of a sound policy for transportation fuels has not hurt us too much. Now that petroleum is getting expensive beyond our control, our society needs to collectively re-evaluate our situation and definitively take steps towards a more robust and sustainable transportation system. Collective action requires an informed, inspired populous and an effective government – it is frustrating to see our society so inept, selfish, and short-sighted on this issue.

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