Arizona wants DOT’s HOS regs eased; truckdrivers recruited

| Thursday, August 21, 2003

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to temporarily waive HOS regulations to enable truckdrivers to deliver needed gasoline after an oil pipeline break caused severe fuel shortages in her state.

The governor wants drivers to operate 80 hours a week, up from 70 hours.

While there’s no word yet from DOT, the Environmental Protection Agency granted a 30-day waiver Aug. 19 to relax fuel regulations and let truckers deliver gas from California and New Mexico that is normally not used in Arizona.

In addition, state officials started a trucking recruitment effort in New Mexico, California and Nevada so drivers can deliver more gas, the governor’s office said.

“We are getting truckers to operate in Arizona from those states,” Kris Mayes, a spokeswoman for the governor, told Land Line. “As far as the crisis goes, we’re not out of the woods yet. The governor has been holding meetings all day and is talking with representatives of Kinder Morgan.”

Clues of the crisis came Aug. 9, the day after Kinder Morgan Energy Partners shut down its 60,000-barrel-a-day pipeline. After that, stations began to run out of gas and wholesale prices started to climb.

The discouraging news: The Phoenix-to-Tucson gasoline pipeline that was shut down because of leaks ruptured again during tests Aug. 20, but the company still expects the line to be back in service this weekend.

Blame game

In the meantime, Napolitano and corporate executives blamed each other for not acting soon enough to head off the shortage. Both sides pointed to a lack of communication and disagreements over the right way to test and reopen the fuel line.

Napolitano said the pipeline company and fuel distributors assured her there would be only "spot shortages" of gasoline Aug. 17 and 18. In fact, consumers created a massive sucking sound by rapidly draining gas stations all over Arizona’s Valley area.

"I'm angry Arizona is being put through this because this pipeline broke and there didn't appear to be an adequate backup plan," Napolitano said during a news conference. "And I'm angry that the private sector, which is supposed to be in charge of running gasoline into the Valley, doesn't have its act together to deal with a critical situation, so now the public sector has to step in."

Gas industry officials countered that Napolitano should have reacted more quickly to the warning that stations were running low after the shutdown.

Tuckers in ‘wrong place at wrong time’

Meanwhile, private and government officials told The Arizona Daily Star they did not foresee the public's panic-buying spree, which would have drained supplies even without a pipeline break. They also said they failed to anticipate the inability of gasoline trucks to get supplies to stations in time to avert shortages.

After three days of gas lines and empty pumps, Napolitano Aug. 19 urged conservation among state employees, a reduction of corporate commuter trips and a lifting of HOS restrictions.

According to press reports, the governor said, “You have all these truckers in the wrong place at the wrong time. The drivers are controlled by federal regulation, so they can only drive so many hours at a time. So retailers are forced to dip into their storage of gas, and that all cascaded over the weekend."

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dlarsen@landlinemag.com.

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