BETHEL – After learning Wednesday afternoon that Gov. John Baldacci proposed emergency legislation to give logging truckers temporary relief from high diesel prices by increasing the wood weight they can haul, Bethel logger Don Bennett chuckled.

State law sets a weight limit of 100,000 pounds for six-axle tractor-trailers operating on Maine’s roads and bridges. Baldacci’s bill – LD 2155, An Act to Assist Maine’s Forest Products Industry – would allow an increase to 105,000 pounds until April 1. This, proponents say, will help logging truckers consolidate loads and save on fuel.

“It’s a Band-Aid, obviously, and it provides very little bit of help, in my mind,” Bennett said.

Baldacci’s bill isn’t going to help much, he said, because the federal government wants to raise the road fuel tax by 5 to 6 cents to help pay for the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

He was talking about the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, which was created by Congress in 2005.

On Tuesday, the commission released its plan to Congress to improve the performance of the nation’s transport system.

To pay for investments of at least $225 billion annually from all sources, the commission recommends tapping new revenue sources, including increasing the federal gas tax between 25 to 40 cents in annual increments of 5 to 8 cents per gallon, according to a commission news release on Tuesday.

“You get help from one and get pooped on by the other. It’s ironic, because on the one hand, they say we can haul more payload to save a few pennies, and on the other hand in Washington, they say we’re going to add a few more pennies on, because they say we’re destroying roads and bridges with our heavier payloads,” Bennett said.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing on the report today, and the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works has tentatively scheduled a hearing on it Wednesday, Jan. 23.

In Maine, Baldacci’s bill was OK’d by the House on Tuesday, but the Senate wanted a hearing, which will be held by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee at 1 p.m. today in Room 126 at the State House in Augusta.

Afterward, the committee will conduct a work session on LD 2155, then vote on it.

The bill then heads to the House for a vote on Tuesday, Jan. 22, and on to the Senate.

“It’s entirely possible to get it passed by both chambers on Tuesday and it can become law,” said Travis Kennedy, House Majority Office spokesman.

A major economic engine for Maine, the forest products industry has been hard hit by rising fuel prices.

Bennett said he employs three people in his business, Bennett’s Lumbering, using only a few pieces of equipment. With the price of diesel fuel at $3.75 a gallon, it costs him between $1,500 and $1,800 a week for fuel.

“With a couple of guys and small machines, it’s easy to eat up 500 gallons of fuel. At $500 per week times four weeks in a month, (to offset it) my little three-man crew must find ways to increase production to get another three to four trailer loads a month.

“Perhaps we do need a crisis … Sometimes a crisis is the catalyst that turns angry Democrats and Republicans into people who shake hands and get things done. It needs to happen, but we shall see,” Bennett said.

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