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posted by janrinok on Tuesday August 24 2021, @04:24PM   Printer-friendly
from the its-corn-its-good dept.

The author of this piece has an obvious bias (Geoff Cooper is the president and CEO of Renewable Fuels Association), but does he also have a valid point?

Let's prioritize American renewable fuels over foreign oil and minerals:

After suffering through more than a year of quarantines, stay-at-home orders, and travel lockdowns, millions of Americans have eagerly returned to the nation's highways this summer for long-awaited vacations and road trips. As a result, gasoline demand has surged to record highs and pump prices are at levels not seen since 2014.

In recent weeks, regular-grade gas prices averaged $3.17 per gallon, up almost 50 percent from the same time last year. With higher fuel prices threatening to undermine the nation's ongoing economic recovery, it's easy to see why the Biden administration is looking for ways to ease America's pain at the pump.

[...] Before the Biden administration looks to OPEC+ countries or mineral-rich nations like Afghanistan, China and Bolivia for help, it has an opportunity to turn to America's heartland for a homegrown solution. Renewable fuels like ethanol have a 40-year proven track record of success in helping to lower prices at the pump while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions, supporting good-paying clean energy jobs and curtailing crude oil imports.

Four decades' worth of investment and innovation by ethanol producers has resulted in real breakthroughs in lower-carbon transportation fuels. Today's corn-based ethanol reduces carbon emissions by 52 percent when compared directly to gasoline, according to a recent study from the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Another study by scientists from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tufts University similarly shows corn ethanol achieves an average carbon reduction of 46 percent compared to gasoline, with some ethanol in the market today achieving a 61 percent carbon reduction.

[...] Before we turn to the Persian Gulf for answers to our nation's energy and climate challenges, let's give the American heartland a shot. The solution to high pump prices and decarbonization lies in the farm fields of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and other Midwest states — not in the oil fields of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle East nations.

Journal Reference:
Uisung Lee, Hoyoung Kwon, May Wu, et al. Retrospective analysis of the U.S. corn ethanol industry for 2005–2019: implications for greenhouse gas emission reductions [open], Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining (DOI: 10.1002/bbb.2225)

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  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @07:43PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 24 2021, @07:43PM (#1170482)

    Take if for what its worth....

    Which isn't a lot. []

    The real problem, Spencer says, is not a shortage but retention. According to the ATA's own statistics, the average annual turnover rate for long-haul truckers at big trucking companies has been greater than 90% for decades. That means, for example, if a company has 10 truckers, nine will be gone within a year or, equivalently, three of their driver positions will have to each be refilled three times in a single year because so many new drivers leave within a few months.

    "We have millions of people who have been trained to be heavy-duty truck drivers who are currently not working as heavy-duty truck drivers because the entry-level jobs are terrible," says Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the trucking industry.

    The industry, namely the very large trucking firms, has been crying for many years about the "trucker shortage," but the issue isn't due to stimulus checks, but the fact that they treat entry level truck drivers like shit:

    The biggest issue is how the companies pay the truckers. Compared with other blue-collar occupations, the median annual income of trucking is actually pretty good: $47,130. But long-haul truckers commonly work extremely long hours, often 60 to 70 hours per week or more. And drivers are typically not paid by the hour. Instead, they are typically paid only for the number of miles they drive. The average truck driver gets paid 52.3 cents per mile, according to the Department of Transportation. Even if weather or traffic slows them down and extends their working day, they get paid the same. Moreover, they're not compensated for the significant time it takes to load or unload their trucks. And they're not compensated for their "off time," even though they're miles and miles away from home.

    Being a long-haul trucker also means living out of your truck, because motels are pretty expensive and often don't have parking for big rigs. Meanwhile, finding parking to rest anywhere is a growing problem. Truckers sacrifice their health, sitting on their butt for hours and hours and eating junk food on the road. And the job is dangerous: Truck drivers are 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average worker.

    But, Viscelli says, through political lobbying, legal activism and harsh business practices, big trucking companies have made a difficult job even harder, especially for entry-level truckers. He says the companies have been "systematically degrading trucker working conditions." Scholars have referred to trucks as "sweatshops on wheels." Viscelli says the industry is rife with minimum wage violations and what he calls "debt peonage." Basically, new drivers become indentured servants, going deep into debt to get training and to lease trucks from their employers (listen to a recent Planet Money episode about this issue).

    I'd be interested to hear what our own current or former truck driver experts think. Their problems are the same as the service industry, particularly the restaurant industry, where they're finding that people are wanting to be treated at least a little better than shit. The trucking industry's solution isn't to improve the working conditions, but to lobby Congress to drop the minimum age for cross-state truckers from 21 to 18.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by ElizabethGreene on Wednesday August 25 2021, @02:09PM (1 child)

    by ElizabethGreene (6748) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 25 2021, @02:09PM (#1170820) Journal

    (Heavy truck mechanic a touch more than two decades ago.)

    There is another factor. Trucking is digesting a major disruptor, mandatory electronic logbooks. For many drivers this is a good thing; It reduces the administrivia of the job and forces dispatchers to accountability for their requests. Some drivers see it as a very bad thing. It wasn't uncommon to fudge a logbook to increase earning potential. That money is gone now.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25 2021, @08:01PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25 2021, @08:01PM (#1170953)

      Paying by the mile, on its face, sounds like a good idea until you take into account traffic jams and loading/unloading times. It is a shame that the industry won't make some reasonable changes, like pay by the hour or lump sum for the loading/unloading, or just pay by the hour regardless. Or, god forbid, put them on salary.

      Maybe something a bit bigger needs to change, like increase long haul transport by freight rail, then have most of your truckers being relatively local so that they can drive the "last mile" and be in their own beds each night. But that probably would never happen unless the trucking companies had major stakes in the freight rail business. And I don't see the current situation changing much if their solution is to bring in teenage drivers (read: CHEAP) and invest in self-driving trucking.