The Kansas City Star
It’s time to deal with the “simply unacceptable” practice of selling consumers fuel not adjusted for temperature, 14 members of Congress have told the National Conference on Weights and Measures.
In a letter sent Monday, the lawmakers said American consumers had suffered too long from the industry practice of not adjusting for temperature at the retail pump.
The lawmakers said they expected the conference to address “this crucially important issue,” which by one estimate costs consumers $2.3 billion a year.
The regulatory group, which produces model codes for states to adopt, has debated the issue for more than three decades. At its annual meeting next week, it is scheduled to vote on a standard for retrofitting pumps to control for temperature. States would then be free to adopt the standard.
The oil industry opposes the standard, saying it would cost too much to fix the problem, with little or no benefit to consumers. In the face of the industry opposition, some of the conference’s weights and measures officials are trying to postpone the vote.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio and chairman of a subcommittee that has held hearings on the issue, said in a telephone interview that he was willing to wait and see what the conference would do and let its process work.
But it’s important to fix what he calls the selling of “ghost gas.”
“We’ll be watching,” said Kucinich, who signed the letter. “If they can’t handle it, you can safely predict that Congress will get involved in it.”
Among the members of Congress signing the letter were Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, all Democrats.
A separate letter to the conference by Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, questioned the benefits to consumers of adjusting fuel for temperature. He urged the group to exercise great caution before making any decision that would permit or require temperature adjustment of fuel at the
Michael Cleary, chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures, said the letters would be forwarded to the group’s members, who will seek to find a consensus on the issue. The code currently being considered would allow retail temperature adjustment on a voluntary basis.
“It should be a very exciting conference,” he said.
The Kansas City Star last August began a series of stories about “hot fuel” and how, at current prices, consumers nationwide pay an estimated $2.3 billion more annually for fuel than they otherwise would.
The physics of hot fuel are fairly simple: Fuel expands and contracts depending on temperature. At the longtime industry standard of 60 degrees, the 231-cubic-inch U.S. gallon puts out a certain amount of energy. But fuel is often sold at much higher temperatures, causing the fuel to expand and the amount of energy to decline for each gallon of volume. The nationwide, year-round average temperature of retail fuel was 64.7 degrees, the newspaper reported.
At other stages in the fuel delivery chain, the industry routinely adjusts volume for temperature change using the 60-degree industry standard. But retail pumps in America make no adjustment for changes in the volume caused by temperature, so consumers get only 231 cubic inches per gallon, regardless of temperature.
The House Domestic Policy Subcommittee in a recent study said that the cost just for this summer would be $1.5 billion.
“They make more money when the sun shines,” Kucinich said of the oil industry.
The letter sent Monday by the members of Congress said that there was no technological obstacle to solving the problem, and that the cost wouldn’t outweigh the benefits to consumers.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said he objected to the oil industry opposing selling temperature-adjusted fuel to consumers while they make the adjustment when selling it wholesale.
The American Petroleum Institute, a group representing the major oil companies, and associations representing gas retailers have been lobbying the conference’s voting members, who are state weights and measures officials. The industry groups argue that the cost to retrofit pumps is too much of a burden for their members, and that consumers wouldn’t get any benefit in the end.
But in a move that stunned some in the industry, the refiner Tesoro Corp. said it would begin putting decals on retail pumps at gas stations it owns in California that say:
“This pump dispenses motor fuel by volume measured in standard gallons (231 cubic inches), as certified by the California Division of Measurement Standards, without adjustment for possible variations due to temperature or other factors which may affect the energy content of each standard gallon dispensed.”
The development was reported Monday by Oil Express, a trade publication. Tesoro said the decal didn’t mean the company believed there was a problem in selling hot fuel to consumers. But supporters of a fix to the problem disagreed.
“The warning labels are acknowledgment of this longtime oil industry rip-off of motorists just as they begin their holiday trips,” said Judy Dugan, research director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “More consumers will understand what’s causing their summer drop-off in gas mileage and be furious. Tesoro would be better off if it went ahead and sold its gasoline fairly.”
Go to www.KansasCity.com to see a copy of the letter.
The signers Fourteen lawmakers signed the letter, all Democrats: Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Rep. Danny Davis, Illinois Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Rep. John Hall, New York Rep. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Rep. Jim Moran, Virginia Rep. Betty
Sutton, Ohio Rep. Diane Watson, California Rep. Charles Wilson, Ohio
To reach the author Steve Everly, call 816-234-4455 or send e-mail to [email protected]