NEW YORK, NY — As if paying $4 a gallon isn’t bad
enough, U.S. drivers will soon face another gasoline price
burden as the summer heat dilutes the amount of driving power
delivered per gallon, industry watchdogs said on Thursday.
Drivers in most parts of the U.S. will likely get less
energy than they pay for because fuel pumps at gas stations are
unable to adjust prices to take into account the fuel volume
changes caused by hot summer temperatures, they said.
"A ‘hot fuel’ surcharge of up a dime a gallon is concealed
from motorists because they have no way to tell if the fuel
they are buying is 60 degrees, 90 degrees or more," said Judy
Dugan, research director of nonprofit Consumer Watchdog.
Gasoline is sold by volume, but as outside temperatures
climb storage tanks heat up and fuel volume expands. That
dilutes the amount of energy delivered per gallon, accounting
for an extra $1.60 for each 20-gallon fill-up at 90 degrees
based on current prices.
"It’s the equivalent of the grocer putting his finger on
the scale," said Dugan, who advocates legislation of requiring
retail pumps to account for the temperature.
As mandated by law, retailers buy fuel from wholesalers by
volume at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But there is no requirement
for the temperature at which they have to sell it.
"Adjusting fuel price to temperature is a matter of simple
fairness," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.
Technology to monitor temperature at pumps has been used
for decades in Canada, where the oil industry pushed for the
Conversely, in the United States, consumer watchdogs say
the oil industry has lobbied against such a measure despite
record high earnings and the relatively modest cost of $800 to
modify an existing pump.
"Oil companies say 3, 5 cents more doesn’t matter. But most
motorists will cross the road to pay 5 cents a gallon less,"
said Consumer Watchdog’s Dugan.
The nation’s leading advocate for independent truckers, the
Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), is
protesting the high cost of diesel fuel with several individual
truckers taking to the courts their complaints about what they
call a hidden subsidy.
A Federal District Court judge in Kansas City in February
refused to dismiss the lawsuit. Legislation requiring
temperature compensation was introduced in August 2007 by
Senator Claire McCaskill.
"The hot fuel scam costs our members at least hundreds of
dollars per year," said John Siebert of OOIDA. "Most of the rise in the price of groceries is because of
the transportation costs," he said. "It’s across the economy. It’s something we are all paying for."
(Reporting by Janet McGurty; editing by Jim Marshall)