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The national average price for diesel is up 75% from a year ago


Much of the U.S. economy runs on diesel fuel. That's what powers those giant trucks on the highways. And truckers are saying they are struggling with diesel costs. NPR's Brittany Cronin reports the surging price of fuel is making everything even more expensive, posing a threat to the economy.

BRITTANY CRONIN, BYLINE: If you thought gas prices were high, thank your lucky stars you're not paying for diesel.

ERIC JAMMER: I can pretty much count on setting on fire five to seven hundred dollars a day, minimum.

CRONIN: That's Eric Jammer. He owns and operates a truck out of Houston, Texas. An 18-wheeler is a really big truck, and Jammer's has 22 wheels. He hauls the big stuff - military and construction equipment. He once hauled an Apache helicopter. His issue isn't how much fuel he needs, it's how costly it's become.

JAMMER: I've joked with a number of drivers, we basically are driving to pay our diesel bill right now.

CRONIN: The national average price for diesel is up 75% from a year ago - at more than $5.50 a gallon. That's a much bigger jump than gas prices in the same period. Jammer has all kinds of fixed costs - monthly payments for his truck and trailer, insurance, permitting, broker fees. And that's before adding in the cost of fuel.

JAMMER: After everyone gets their piece of the pie and you look at what's left, there's either nothing or very little for you.

CRONIN: Jammer says this isn't just about him. Trucking touches almost everything in this country.

JAMMER: Because everything in your house was on a truck at some point in time.

CRONIN: Whether it came off a cargo ship, a railway or sat in a warehouse, trucks are the connective tissue that move 70% of all freight in the U.S. But the cost to move that freight is rising, in part because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. is also exporting more diesel to Europe to reduce its reliance on Russian fuel.

Bob Costello, chief economist with the American Trucking Association, says these rising fuel costs don't just land on truckers.

BOB COSTELLO: Ultimately, you and I, as consumers, will see this on the store shelves in the price of the products.

CRONIN: There's no doubt rising fuel costs are contributing to higher retail prices, but just how much is hard to quantify. And it's not just trucking. Diesel is a crucial input in industrial business. It keeps factories humming, construction moving and it helps grow our food.

MARK DARRINGTON: Diesel plays a role in everything that we do on the farm.

CRONIN: Mark Darrington and his sons own Big D Farms in Declo, Idaho. They grow potatoes, sugar beets, wheat. If you've had Coors or Budweiser, you may have tasted their malt barley. Darrington has about 70,000 gallons of diesel stored in tanks on his property for his tractors and other farm equipment. He bought the fuel in December, when it was about $2 a gallon cheaper than it is now.

DARRINGTON: Yes. But when that's gone, it's gone, and it has to be replaced.

CRONIN: Darrington is already paying double what he did last year for fertilizer. He says there's no way he and other farmers can eat the increased cost of fuel.

DARRINGTON: My increased costs of production have got to be passed on to the consumer. Otherwise, literally, the countryside will shut down.

CRONIN: For his part, Texas trucker Eric Jammer says he's just trying to hold on and outlast the price hike. He thinks he can make it to the end of the year at current prices.

JAMMER: As long as we don't get to California diesel pricing in Texas. You know, if it gets that bad in Texas, then we're done.

CRONIN: If you thought the supply chain problems were bad before, Jammer says just wait until store shelves are empty because trucks can't afford to move the product.

Brittney Cronin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brittany Cronin
Brittany Cronin covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business desk.