Lack of tanker truck drivers could lead to gas shortages this summer

Rising pump prices collide with Biden’s ambitious greenhouse gas emission goals as travel season begins

Channel 2's Lori Wilson reports on what Georgia drivers are seeing at the pumps.

Just as Americans are hoping to hit the road this summer for some pandemic-relief vacations, a lack of tanker truck drivers could lead to gas shortages during the warm-weather travel season.

According to the industry trade group, the National Tank Truck Carriers, 20 percent to 25 percent of tank trucks in the fleet are idle due to a lack of qualified drivers. At this point in 2019, only 10% of trucks were parked for that reason.

“We’ve been dealing with a driver shortage for a while, but the pandemic took that issue and metastasized it,” Ryan Streblow, executive vice president of the NTTC, told CNN. “It certainly has grown exponentially.”

The problem became magnified last year when Americans weren’t driving due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, and gas stations just didn’t need as much gas. This meant truck drivers weren’t getting enough work, and many chose to leave the business.

The lack of qualified truck drivers is coinciding with rising prices at the pump. The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline has jumped two cents during the past two weeks, to $2.96 per gallon. On Sunday, industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey said the increase came as crude oil costs also rose. Overall, the price at the pump is $1.03 higher than it was a year ago.

Driving a tanker truck requires special certification, including a commercial driver’s license, and weeks of training.

Holly McCormick, vice president in charge of driver recruitment and retention at Oklahoma-based Groendyke Transport, told CNN, “a lot of drivers didn’t want to do the safety protocols. We’re also working with an aging work force. Many said, ‘I might as well take it as a cue to retire.’”

“We were even hauling boxes for Amazon just to keep our drivers busy.”

McCormick said another problem was the shutdown of many driver schools early in the pandemic. The pipeline of new drivers those schools would have produced has yet to be filled, she said. And then there’s a new federal clearinghouse that went online in January 2020 to identify truck drivers with prior drug or alcohol violations or failed drug tests, which knocked about 40,000 to 60,000 total drivers out of the national employment pool.

The world’s largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, RVshare, said bookings are surging ahead of the summer travel season, with April reservations up 846% from this time last year.

Travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth has also just released a breakdown of emerging summer 2021 travel trends.

Squaremouth Analytics conducted a comparison of thousands of travel insurance policies purchased by customers both pre- and post-pandemic to detect changes in consumer behavior in response to COVID-19. It reports that Americans’ summer 2021 getaways are largely going to be of the domestic variety, with an estimated 48% of insured trips being booked within the U.S. This represents a sizable increase in comparison with last summer, when just 19% of travelers kept their vacations within the country.

Rising gas prices and a shortage of qualified drivers are also coinciding with the Biden administration’s ambitious goal of slashing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Huge reductions would have to come from somewhere other than American tailpipes.

Experts say there are too many gas-powered passenger vehicles in the United States — roughly 279 million — to replace them in less than a decade. In a typical year, automakers sell about 17 million vehicles nationwide. Even if every one of the new ones were electric, it would take more than 16 years to replace the fleet.

On Monday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr joined nine other state attorneys general in suing to prevent the Biden administration from carrying out what the officials are calling “an act of executive overreach that will kill thousands of jobs throughout the country and threatens to impose more burdens and harms on the American people.”

“This executive order is nothing but a license for gross federal overreach that will have potentially life-altering consequences for hard-working Georgians,” Carr said in a news release. “The president is using arbitrary numbers to justify regulating anything and everything, and we will not allow this egregious overstep of Executive Branch authority.”

In a recent executive order, however, the president established a “working group” made up of federal appointees who were required to establish a damages value based on global environmental damages from climate change. These values are referred to as the “social cost of carbon,” the “social cost of methane” and the “social cost of nitrous oxide.” The president further required federal agencies to immediately begin applying these numbers in regulatory actions and, vaguely “other” decision-making.

In addition to Georgia, the following states joined in the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Biden, who unveiled his goals at a climate summit with world leaders last week, has yet to detail the greenhouse gas reductions that his administration envisions for each sector of the economy. Overall, the reductions are intended to limit global warming as part of the president’s vision of a nation that produces cutting-edge batteries and electric cars, a more efficient electrical grid and caps abandoned oil rigs and coal mines.