Trucking capacity is getting tighter as demand surges from retailers and manufacturers that need to replenish stores and distribution centers due to shoppers stockpiling life-sustaining food and sanitizing supplies due to the coronavirus pandemic. The large amount of food and consumables being purchased has created disruption across supply chains. Shipments of items such as electronics and health and beauty products are being delayed as retailers make more room in distribution centers and stores for food, paper products, and cleaning supplies. The 3.5 million drivers that operate the trucks delivering medical and other supplies need energy to power the trucks and refrigerate items on board.
Energy powers the refrigeration on trucks, trains, and in stores that keep our food from spoiling and the mechanized farm equipment that produces it. Thanks to the trucking industry and to farmers, diesel fuel demand for trucking and farm equipment is providing some relief to refiners as the coronavirus cuts into the demand for gasoline and jet fuel. Energy is also powering our smartphones and computer keyboards, lights, showers, heat and air conditioning, and cars that enable us to drive to grocery stores or for those stores to deliver to our homes.
U.S. highway-safety regulators have suspended rules that limit daily driving hours for truck drivers moving emergency supplies such as medical equipment, hand sanitizer and food in response to the nationwide coronavirus outbreak, in recognition of these products’ importance to sustaining life and keeping people safe and comfortable. Hourly driving restrictions for truckers hauling critical medical goods and food for emergency restocking of stores have been lifted. These restrictions limit drivers to 11 hours behind the wheel in every 24 hour period. The national emergency declaration includes fuel, paper products, and other groceries as well as raw materials such as paper, plastic and alcohol used to manufacture essential items.
But drivers are facing new difficulties, including closed roadside eateries, customers wary of letting them in, and a general lack of sanitizer and hand wipes. Drivers, who deliver to states heavily hit by the coronavirus such as New York and Washington, have been stopped in other states and asked where they have been due to concerns about their entrance and the risk of contamination. Other problems are the closure of truck stops and rest areas, including rest rooms and food conveniences.
Pennsylvania, for example, shut down its state-run rest stops, raising alarms among truckers, who transit the state—a major route for freight moving through the East Coast and the Midwest. Pennsylvania is also home to large clusters of warehouses and distribution centers. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation responded to the trucking industry’s complaints by reopening 13 rest areas for truck parking with portable toilets that will be cleaned once a day.
Trucks moving shipments of perishables, cleaning products and paper goods are having trouble finding cargo to fill trailers on their return, leaving carriers to run more trucks empty. As a result, shipping networks have had to be redesigned.
Energy workers are not able to practice social distancing as easily as truck drivers. Millions of energy workers remain on the job despite the risks of exposure to the coronavirus. And millions will get laid off if the economy does not rebound quickly. Much of the energy industry is nearing bankruptcy, and has not been helped by the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Without electricity, which is 90 percent produced by traditional energy sources (coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric power), computers, televisions, ovens, microwaves, refrigerators, and all the other appliances that run on electricity would be useless and the medical equipment that are keeping coronavirus patients alive would not be operational. We expect power to be available 24/7 and most of the time it is thanks to the traditional sources of energy and the workers that produce it for us.
Our country and its industries have had to make major adjustments due to the coronavirus outbreak. We need to thank our hospitals, doctors and nurses, who are keeping patients alive, and the supply chains that support them. If it were not for the energy and trucking industry we would not be able to obtain needed supplies to comply with the stay-at-home orders our governors have implemented.