Consumer Group Urges Support for Senate “Fair Fuel” Proposal (S.1997), Now Under Fire By Oil Companies, Distributors
“Hot fuel” will take a last summer bite from drivers in the Washington metro area this Labor Day weekend, said OilWatchdog.org. When gasoline reaches 90 degrees, which is common in warm regions during the summer, drivers lose about $1.20 worth of energy on a 20-gallon fill-up.
“Drivers’ losses boost the bottom line of oil companies,” said Judy Dugan, research director of Oilwatchdog.org and its sponsor, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “Just driving to the Eastern Shore in a loaded minivan means two fill-ups for many people. Over a year, hot fuel can easily cost $100 or more, the price of a week’s food.”
Most drivers aren’t aware of their loss, though it causes odd variations in fuel mileage during warm weather. In California and Arizona, ExxonMobil has begun putting bland stickers on pumps about fuel energy being “affected by temperature” as a tactic to fend off class action lawsuits against hot fuel sales. (Click here for more information.)
“The current lawsuits against hot fuel are backed by long-haul truckers whose bottom lines are seriously affected,” said Dugan. “But they are also supported by individual consumers once they know that they are being ripped off at the pump.”
The yearly national loss to drivers is estimated at $2.3 billion. In the Maryland-Virginia-DC region, federal data shows a loss estimated at $68 million annually. That figure does not account for greater mileage driven in warm weather.
Oilwatchdog is countering ExxonMobil by offering consumers “Hot Fuel Ripoff Warning” stickers, available through www.OilWatchdog.org.
The stickers note that U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri has introduced a “Fair Fuel” bill, S.1997, which would require that retailers sell gasoline adjusted for temperature. That means a gallon would be slightly larger when the fuel is above 60 degrees. (Click here to see explanation and text of the bill.)
The House Domestic Policy Subcommittee has also held two hearings on the “hot fuel” issue, with Chairman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio sharply questioning executives from Shell and ExxonMobil.
“Oil companies are like a grocer with his thumb on the scale, out of sight of the shopper,” said Dugan. “The Senate’s Fair Fuel bill would lift that cheating thumb, if legislators can resist the oil lobby’s efforts to kill the measure.”
At a National Conference on Weights and Measures meeting in Chicago this week, technical experts said a switch to temperature-measuring fuel dispensers would be relatively simple, because they are already in wide use in Canada and U.S. companies make the equipment.
When gasoline is sold at the wholesale level, it is adjusted for temperature variation from the national standard of 60 degrees. Gasoline comes from the refinery well above 60 degrees, and in hotter weather can gain more heat during wait time in aboveground tanks and transportation to the station. Retailers get extra gallons to compensate for temperature expansion. But consumers can buy fuel only by a measured gallon, no matter what its energy content. At the higher end of fuel temperatures, 105 degrees, the loss is about a dime a gallon. (The energy loss is 1% for every 15 degrees)
The U.S. military requires that the price of fuel it buys be adjusted for temperature. But individuals lack the clout to make such a demand.
Fuel-temperature data collected from 2002-2004 by the National Institute for Standards and Technology found a national year-round average temperature of 64.7 degrees. The fastest-growing U.S. regions, the South and West, average substantially higher.
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OilWatchdog.org is a project of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer watchdog organization. Its websites are www.OilWatchdog.org and www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.