Short Takes

Dick Larsen, Senior Editor

Rude crude prices predicted: Crude oil prices may eventually reach $51 a barrel by 2025 because of inflation and rising energy needs in developing nations, according to an Energy Department projection. The report by the DOE’s Energy Information Administration said strong economic growth in Asia would drive world energy prices in the next decade. Meanwhile, OPEC producers are expected to still be the major oil suppliers in 2025, the report said. They now account for about a third of the oil being pumped.

California screamin’: Regulators may declare the first fuel emergency in 15 years in California because of the rupture of a Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP pipeline that may cause shortages of gasoline and diesel, and further price increases, Bloomberg reported. The spill may have forced refiners to tap fuel reserves to supply filling stations, reducing supplies available for summer, when demand peaks, California Energy Commission spokeswoman Claudia Chandler told Bloomberg.

Terrorism and political factors: Growing fears about political instability and terrorist threats in the Middle East will keep a large risk premium on fuel prices for at least several months, and probably far longer, reported. In addition, refining constraints are also likely to add to costs. Meanwhile, politicians will resist refining industry requests to temporarily relax stringent environmental regulations that act as bottlenecks to gasoline supply. That’s because no one in Congress or the White House wants to be branded a polluter before the November elections.

Hybrid vehicles gaining acceptance: Americans are opting more for vehicles with gasoline-electric hybrid engines, and that trend is expected to continue because of high gasoline prices and more hybrid models. U.S. registrations for hybrid vehicles rose to 43,435 last year, a 25.8 percent increase from 2002, according to figures from R.L. Polk & Co. California had the most registrations at 11,425. Texas was seventh with 1,651.

DOT focuses on CDL fraud: Thomas R. Duke, owner of TTT Truck Drivers School Inc., Macon, GA, has been convicted of 40 counts of conspiracy for falsifying student tests. He faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead stated, “We have identified fraud in the commercial driver’s license program as one of the nation’s most serious safety problems … we will not tolerate inadequate training and false testing of commercial truck drivers.”

Mixed news on truck repos: Nassau Asset Management’s NasTrac Quarterly Index shows a 61 percent drop in truck and trailer repossessions the first quarter of 2004 compared with the same quarter last year. However, Ed Castagna, Nassau’s senior executive vice president, said while repossessions were down compared with the first quarter of 2003, they have increased significantly in the past few months since the fourth quarter of 2003. Rosyln Heights, NY-based Nassau has tracked equipment values for several decades.

U.S. rep. wants anti-idling tax credits: U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-TX, has introduced legislation to provide a federal tax credit of up to $3,500 per truck for purchasing idling-reduction devices. The “Idling Reduction Tax Credit Act of 2004” (HR 4209) would create a credit that pays for about half the cost of a qualifying device. The measure, which to date has no co-sponsors, has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. The legislation requires amending the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. In addition, the bill requires the EPA and the federal energy secretary to certify alternative idling devices that would qualify for the tax credit.

Road kill reduction: The Senate version of the pending transportation bill would require all state transportation departments to consult with fish and game agencies when they build roads with federal money. The purpose is to reduce road kill. Among the solutions currently in use in Maine and California: an infrared beam along highways that trigger flashing lights to protect wandering moose; radio collars around elk necks that set off flashing lights along highways; overpasses for tortoises, foxes, coyotes and opossums; and vibration detectors for deer.

Inspectors ready for Mexican trucks: Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said April 30 federal inspectors were preparing to inspect Mexican trucks this summer if the Supreme Court ruled the trucks could operate beyond U.S. commercial zones. “We may see a decision as early as June,” Mineta said in a speech in Fort Worth, TX. “If we get the green light, the Bush administration is prepared to act, and hundreds of inspectors are standing by.”

Nation’s capital may expand truck ban: Washington, DC, may ban semi-trucks starting in June to protect buildings other than the White House and to reduce congestion, according to a DOT report begun after September 11. “Trucks, with their large capacity, could carry explosives or other materials that could cause large-scale damage to the district and its residents,” the draft report said. The report also said the city was “poised” to experience additional trucking activity within its boundaries, and between the district and the neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia.