Majority of Expert Body’s Voters Approves a Fix, But It Fails on Technicality: Issue Tossed Back to Congress
Santa Monica, CA — A majority of the group that decides national weights and measures regulations voted today to fix the “hot fuel” ripoff of motorists, agreeing that gasoline sales should be adjusted for temperature in order to be fair to consumers. However, the vote was a few short of an absolute majority because of deliberate abstentions, meaning that despite the weight of expert opinion no action was taken. Congress and the states must now act to require temperature-adjusted gasoline at the pump, said the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
California weights and measures officials at the meeting indicated that they favor direct state action, said a story today in the Kansas City Star. An L.A. County official reportedly also told the group that the county’s drivers alone may be losing the energy equivalent of 40 million gallons of gasoline a year, according to a continuing survey of gasoline temperatures. At current prices, that amounts to a $160 million dollar annual loss to consumers in a single large county.
“The issue is not just whether most motorists can afford the $100 or so a year that hot fuel costs them as individuals, but whether gasoline is sold honestly,” said Judy Dugan, research director of OilWatchdog.org and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “If you saw your grocer behind the counter with his thumb on the scale, would you shop at that store again? Unfortunately, we don’t have the choice with gasoline. It’s up to our elected officials to fix it.”
Congress tried to punt a fix for ‘hot fuel‘ to the NCWM. The group, after months of pressure from the oil industry, has punted it back, said FTCR. Federal and state elected officials should now pass straightforward legislation making gasoline sales honest all the way to the gas pump.
“There is no reason to allow refiners, distributors and retailers to use one measure of a gallon for themselves, and a lesser measure for consumers,” said Dugan.
Gasoline prices are rising nationally and especially in the Midwest, in response to higher oil prices and refinery outages, which means the cost of hot fuel will also grow.
There were two votes by the NCWM’s “lower and upper” bodies, with similar results. One voted 23-16 in favor of voluntary temperature compensation and the other voted 24-16 in favor. However, both were short of the required absolute majority of 27 because of abstentions. NCWM representatives from California and Midwestern and Southern states argued strongly for retail sale of gasoline to be adjusted for temperature. A letter from several members of Congress also urged the NCWM to act, after House committee hearings on the national cost of “hot fuel.” (For information on the letter from Congress, see: http://www.oilwatchdog.org/articles/?storyId=5880)
The NCWM is a voluntary organization with about 2,400 members, according to its web site. Its membership is described as industry representatives and state weights-and-measures officials. The NCWM’s decisions, governing weights and measures right down to supermarket scales and gasoline pumps, are usually followed to the letter by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Yet there is no formal representation for consumers in the organization’s leadership, noted FTCR. The chairman of the NCWM, Michael Cleary, told the Star yesterday that he would be disappointed by a lack of action, because a fix for hot fuel was going to be a “reality in the marketplace whether we like it or not.”
“The NCWM, which usually operates without any public attention, was in a spotlight this year because of ‘hot fuel,'” said Dugan. “That is probably what pushed the group to at least take its first-ever vote on the issue. It’s disheartening that a wide majority of voters at the NCWM favored temperature adjustment of gasoline in the name of fairness, but the action failed nonetheless. Now it’s up to lawmakers, who are elected to take the heat and do what’s right.”
A U.S. company, Gilbarco Veeder-Root, already manufactures gasoline nozzles that adjust the volume of gasoline going into the vehicle. The nozzles add a little extra to each gallon when its temperature is above the current ‘industry standard’ of 60 degrees, and a little less for gasoline below that temperature. In Canada, about 95% of gasoline is sold temperature-adjusted. That’s because in colder climes, the consumer could benefit from cooler gasoline, so Canadian refiners and distributors demanded, and received, temperature regulation, said FTCR. Gilbarco briefly offered to sell its temperature-adjusting nozzles in California, but backed off in the face of industry disapproval. (See http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/energy/pr/?postId=7453)
Here’s a recap of how it works: Gasoline, like any liquid, expands as it gets warmer. Warmer gas provides less energy per gallon, about a 1% loss for every 30 degrees. At every part of the sales chain except the retail pump, prices are adjusted to a standard of 60 degrees. Refiners provide extra gallons to distributors, who provide extra gallons to gas stations, to make up for heat expansion. But when motorists buy gasoline, it’s not adjusted. If gasoline is 80 degrees, which is common in a warm state like California, the energy loss is worth about 2 cents a gallon, or 50 cents a fill-up on a 25-gallon tank. That’s about $100 per year for car owners, according to studies by a large truck drivers’ organization, OOIDA, that is supporting lawsuits against “hot fuel” sales. (For more background, see original report from the Kansas City Star at: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/energy/nw/?postId=6759)
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