"Missed Opportunity"

I consider myself lucky. I drive a small car that consistently gets just a tick over 32 miles per gallon, and it runs just fine on regular gas. I can get over 300 miles on a tankful, and it "only" costs me about $30 to fill up my tank. A few months ago, I thought an $18 tankful was outrageous; now it seems like a dream. I also live in a small town, and can bike the two miles to work if I choose.

So, the fact that the energy bill recently signed into law by President Bush does very little to reduce our nation's consumption of fossil fuels, or to reduce our dependence on hostile nations to acquire that fuel, doesn't affect my daily energy picture too much. Like all other Americans, I'll pay higher prices at the pump, and I'll pay higher home heating bills this winter, and I'll worry that we are heading towards an energy crisis worse than 1973. And, post-Katrina, I've begun wondering if this energy crisis will be permanent.

There is some good news in the energy bill. In the Heavy Duty section of this issue (See The $94.5 Million Jackpot, page 18), we look at the section of the bill that makes money available to put idle-reduction technology on heavy trucks and in truck stops and Interstate rest areas. Some of the money will help to support the Environmental Protection Agency's successful SmartWay program, and the bill also allows a 400 pound GVW exemption on many trucks with new idle-reduction equipment installed. In addition, tax breaks will continue for purchases of gas-electric hybrid vehicles. That's much-needed good news that will help out a lot of fleets.

But the bad news may ultimately hurt just as many fleets, because the bill does little, beyond lip service, to encourage conservation or the development of alternate energy.

Of course, that doesn't directly affect fleets today, and a lot of smart fleet maintenance managers are already far ahead of the federal government in adopting fuel conservation methods and running alternate fuel vehicles.

The trouble is, without strong federal leadership and guidance, the whole country isn't working towards those same goals, and those among us who are may not be moving at the same speed (or even in the same direction). As long as that situation prevails—and this new energy bill all but guarantees that it will for at least the next decade—we will all feel the sledgehammer of higher fuel costs heating our homes and businesses, and powering our vehicles.

The fleet transportation industry can't continue to thrive, or even survive, as long as fuel costs remain so completely out of control.

We need to conserve. And we need to switch to alternatives. And we can't just nibble away at the problem the way this energy bill does. We need to confront and solve the problem.