Disaster in the Gulf Revives Alternative Fuels Debate

Well, that didn’t take long.

The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has already had a significant impact beyond the creation of a tragic environmental disaster. Oil companies are once again being portrayed as heartless robber barons who care more about profits than public safety, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is having second thoughts about offshore drilling in the Pacific, and a few less people are yelling ‘Drill, baby, drill!” in an election year.

The goals, as always, are energy self-sufficiency and a reduction in the need for oil to run our cars and trucks. America imports approximately 2/3 of the oil we use, 70 percent of which is used as transportation fuel for automobiles and about 8 million heavy-duty trucks, which use 1/3 of the oil we import as fuel. Total cost? $400 billion a year.

Heavy trucks can’t run on battery power yet, but they can run on natural gas. Clean energy champions such as former oilman T. Boone Pickens have strongly advocated an expanded use of natural gas vehicles in America, especially given the expected demand for oil supplies in China and India, and the increased per-barrel price that will accompany them.

Natural gas is cleaner and cheaper and more abundant than oil, and we’ve got all we need right here – enough to last at least 200 years. And while it would be difficult to convert the auto industry to natural gas, given the dearth of refueling stations, private industries such as heavy-duty truck fleets could be more easily converted, with stations added to their headquarters or along the routes their drivers most frequently travel.

These and other issues were discussed earlier this month at the Alternative Fuels & Vehicles Conference held in Las Vegas.

Possible Delay with CSA?

Most heavy-duty trucking companies have July 1 circled on their calendar, as a reminder of the implementation of CSA 2010. However, it now appears that companies will have the rest of the summer to get their files and fleet in shape, as the program may not begin until the fall.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has expressed hope that phases of CSA 2010 will be in place when the leaves begin to turn, with full implementation not expected until spring or summer of 2011, rather than this December as originally planned.

The agency released this statement:  “As part of FMCSA’s commitment to launch a comprehensive and effective CSA 2010 program, the agency is in the process of incorporating the feedback received from partners and stakeholders in the CSA 2010 pilot states. In the coming weeks, the agency expects to issue a Federal Register notice that will address the CSA 2010 implementation timeline and data preview for commercial motor carriers.”

The reason for the delay appeared to be a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address some of the details of implementation. However, that is no excuse for not starting to prepare now, as there will be no getting away from the program’s requirements regarding paperwork and collected data.

The FMSCSA will provide carriers with a preview of their CSA 2010 data later this month. By November 30, both carriers and the public will have access to complete Carrier Safety Measurement System data. However, the public will not be able to review Crash Indicator scores.