- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A convoy of truckers rolled through the District on Tuesday protesting high gas prices — but turnout was much lower than expected. Organizers blamed the low turnout on — high gas prices.

About 20 truckers — instead of the anticipated 200 — blared their horns in a clarion call to Congress to rein in speculators and pursue more domestic sources of oil.

Signs taped to their rigs read: “America is going broke because of oil.”

Congress, however, was busy with other pressing matters as members of the Senate banking committee braked the Bush administration’s $700 billion financial-system bailout.

Mark Kirsch, national director of Truckers And Citizens United (TACU), pegged the turnout at FedEx Field at up to 30 trucks, while the Associated Press reported fewer than 20 trucks arrived on Capitol Hill a few hours later.

“Truckers are just struggling to get by these days, and the high cost of fuel is killing them,” said Ron Wenger, co-director of TACU.

Even with the low turnout, the truckers were pleased with the response they received from the public.

“It’s not about the people who actually show up today. It was about getting downtown and seeing the support we had on the sidewalks and on the bridges. It’s about the thousands of people using the telephone to call Capitol Hill as we speak,” said D.J. Brown, a Midwest owner-operator and activist.

The truckers came to Washington to highlight the role of speculators and an indifferent Congress in the dramatic increase in fuel prices in recent years.

Oil speculators buy futures contracts to profit from price fluctuations without physically owning any oil.

Last week, the House approved measures that would curb speculation in oil and other commodity markets. The bill is in the Senate, which is also looking into broader energy legislation focused on offshore oil drilling. The White House has threatened to veto the anti-speculation bill, claiming there is no evidence that oil speculators are to blame for oil prices.

There is considerable debate about how much of the oil price increase has been driven by speculators.

The Commodities Futures Trading Commission — which oversees futures trading — said in a Sept. 11 report that it could not determine how much speculation has influenced prices.

A day earlier, however, congressional proponents of laws to curb speculation released an independent study that said the price of oil would be half its current level without the impact of speculation.

Mr. Brown said that while working in Texas, he was not able to attend his mother’s funeral in Michigan because of high gas prices. He said he spends $700 to $900 a day on gasoline alone. “I’m here to get the oil off the speculation market and make the whole economy better in the process,” he said. “It costs me more to transport it, and it costs you more at the store to buy it.”

“Somebody has made an awful lot of money off the American people, and it wasn’t you or I,” said TACU spokesman Charles Claburn.

The harshest criticisms were reserved for Congress, which the truckers say is ignoring the plight of working people across the country.

“There is no need to take a vacation during an energy crisis,” said Mr. Kirsch, referring to the five-week break the Congress took in August to work in their home districts. “It’s not just about trucks; it’s about the American citizen. We are getting ripped off,” he said.

“Everyday Americans are doing their part to reduce consumption, but our legislators haven’t done anything on their end to remedy these problems,” Mr. Wenger said.

Leaders from TACU were to discuss energy policy with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Thursday. They will be asking that Congress close loopholes that allow speculators to manipulate oil prices, lift some bans on offshore drilling and allow new refineries to be built around the Gulf of Mexico region.

• Christopher Shaver contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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