Independent Truckers' Strikes White House Statement.
President Jimmy Carter
June 22, 1979
Over the past few days the actions of the Nation's independent truckers have had a serious impact on the country's transportation system. The White House staff has met with a number of trucking industry representatives to learn firsthand of their concerns and has kept the President closely informed of developments. The truckers have many legitimate concerns. Some can be remedied speedily, some will take time and much hard work to improve.
The key problems that face the truckers are the same as those that face all of us: too little fuel at too high price. Because of OPEC price increases and the cutback in Iranian oil production, our Nation's long-term energy problem has become a critical shortage of diesel fuel both for truckers and for other transportation industries.
While the steps the administration intends to take to address the truckers concerns are important, the President wishes to underscore the statement he made yesterday deploring the acts of violence that have accompanied the truckers' strike. None of the problems faced by the independents can justify the lawlessness that has occurred in some parts of the country. We will not tolerate shootings, vandalism, or violations of individual rights. Law enforcement is primarily a State responsibility, but the Federal Government will provide every assistance to the States to help them preserve order.
To help increase supplies of diesel fuel, a number of steps have already been taken. Two weeks ago, incentive entitlement payments for importation of middle distillates, which includes diesel, were increased by $5 per barrel. Since then these imports have increased substantially. In addition, every effort is being made to increase refinery output of diesel, gasoline, and other products. With rising crude oil imports, additional supplies of diesel and gasoline should be refined as quickly as possible. This administration will not tolerate any withholding of available supplies. A major audit of the Nation's refineries is now underway as part of the administration's efforts to ensure maximum refinery utilization.
Besides increasing overall diesel supplies, we must ensure that available fuel is distributed where it is most needed.
To accomplish this the Department of Energy recently instituted a special program, Special Rule #9, to provide farmers and others with 100 percent of their needs. This allocation was based on the critical importance of timely planting to ensure adequate national food supplies. Because of weather problems, farmers were far behind in their planting schedules earlier this year. Each day of delay due to fuel shortages could have cost the Nation millions of dollars in lower crop yields and higher food prices.
As Secretary Bergland indicated this morning, Rule #9 has succeeded well in solving that potential problem. Despite weather problems, planting is now complete in most areas. The danger of severe crop loss is now past.
But the special allocation to farmers has forced other diesel users to cut back sharply. Truckers, rail and barge companies, and other users have experienced severe reductions.
Because Rule #9 has succeeded in its initial purpose, and may now be creating significant supply dislocations, Secretary Schlesinger, after consultation with Secretary Bergland and the President, has suspended Rule #9 effective immediately. This action will allow the normal distribution system for diesel distribution to operate. This does not mean that farmers will lack supplies necessary for their operations. Farmers' needs continue to be critical, and the President intends to ensure that they will be adequately supplied. To ensure that farmers' needs are provided for, the President has asked Secretary Bergland, in coordination with Secretary Schlesinger, to monitor the farm situation on a daily basis and to report to him immediately if the situation changes.
The President also urges the Governors to use their State set-aside allocations to protect farmers against fuel shortages. We will continue to monitor the situation closely so that we can make adjustments later if necessary.
In suspending Rule #9 only one allocation has been retained. This involves the priority for mass transit operations. During a period of shortages of both gasoline and diesel fuel it would be self-defeating to allow diesel shortages to divert commuters from energy-efficient buses to automobiles. Because transit utilizes only 2 percent of the Nation's diesel, this allocation should not significantly impact on other diesel users.
Increased supplies and more efficient distribution should do much to help ease supply shortages and to slow the recent price spiral.
To help ease the price squeeze caused by rising fuel prices, the ICC last week implemented a new system to allow an automatic, 100-percent pass-through of fuel cost increases. This system will provide independent truckers leasing to regulated carriers with significant immediate revenue increases. This index will be adjusted weekly to cover any further price increases, and the surcharge must be passed through to independent operators. The President fully supports this change in ICC procedures which will benefit the majority of independent truckers.
For exempt haulers who are not regulated by the ICC, this fuel price surcharge published by the ICC should form one basis for negotiations concerning a fair price for hauling exempt commodities. In addition to this standard the President has asked the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation, working with the ICC, to develop plans for publishing an index of prices charged for hauling various exempt commodities. Updated in a timely fashion, this index could provide another basis for negotiations between brokers and exempt haulers, helping to ensure fair prices.
In addition to the critical issues of price and availability of diesel fuel, the independent truckers have raised a number of other concerns.
For many independents one of the most aggravating problems is the wide variety of taxes, permits, and standards under which they must operate in the different States. The President will immediately call together a number of the Nation's Governors to discuss with them ways in which we can bring about greater uniformity, simplicity, and reciprocity in State and Federal regulation and taxation of the trucking industry.
At the Federal level the President has asked Secretary Adams to speed up the implementation of several programs to develop systems to allow truckers to stop only once during any one trip to file fuel, registration, and licensing fees. This program would allow for computerized figuring of State tax shares and would allow truckers to make only one payment, greatly simplifying the paperwork and administrative burdens that independent operators must deal with. The program will be implemented in six States by December of 1980.
One aspect of the differing State regulatory requirements is the variation in allowable truck weights and lengths permitted on the Nation's highways. Although Federal law sets maximum truck weights, it allows the States the right to set limits below these levels. Obviously in each State the question of truck weights involves complex issues of road capacity, cost allocation, and safety. The President believes that the States should continue to make the final judgments on these difficult issues.
However, there could be substantial benefits to the Nation's transportation system if allowable truck weights were standardized nationwide. The President urges the Governors and State legislatures of those States below the Federal minimum to consider these potential benefits and to review carefully their decisions on truck weight and size limits in light of the current situation.
There are other problems that plague the Nation's truckers. For example, there are many reports of illegal and unfair overcharges of truckers at loading and unloading docks. One approach to the problem has been suggested by Congressman Neal Smith of Iowa in his bill, H.R. 753. This bill, or a measure designed to accomplish its goals, deserves early and favorable consideration by the Congress and has the administration's full support.
Also, as part of the Department of Transportation's program to develop a "new automobile," DOT will support research to improve diesel engine efficiency.
On these and other longer term problems the President is prepared to work with the Congress, the Governors, and the truckers to devise sound solutions. The Federal Government in Washington cannot solve every problem with a law or a ruling. But working together we can accomplish a great deal.
While this work goes forward, all independent truckers should return to work to provide the Nation with vitally needed transportation services. Those who choose not to work should know that unlawful interference with the rights of their fellow citizens will not be tolerated.
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