California Assembly OKs bill tackling ‘hot fuel’ issue

| 7/10/2007

A bill calling for a study to analyze the problem of so-called “hot fuel” in California along with possible solutions to make sure consumers get what they pay for at the pump is halfway through the statehouse.

State law now regulates fuel temperature and measurement for purposes of dispensing fuel at retail facilities.

Federal government standards put a gallon of fuel at 231 cubic inches at 60 degrees. The 60-degree mark is a century-old standard for the petroleum industry. When fuel is above the temperature threshold, it becomes an issue for consumers because the amount of energy it produces drops, meaning fewer miles to the gallon.

The issue is particularly troublesome in California where the weather is consistently warm in much of the state, and truckers and others pay among the highest fuel prices in the nation. During the state’s summer months, fuel expansion is expected to cause consumers to overpay for fuel by $228 million, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Assembly voted 46-31 to approve a bill offered by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, that would require a study and cost benefit-analysis, and to make recommendations to the Legislature about future legislation and regulations regarding the reference temperature for fuel dispensation. The information must be submitted by Dec. 1, 2008.

The Department of Food and Agriculture, in partnership with the California Energy Commission and the California Air Resources Board, would conduct the research. Information would be collected during routine dispenser inspections.

The issue of hot fuel is drawing its share of debate nationwide. A recent congressional subcommittee met to point a critical finger at fuel retailers and oil companies for profiting from retail gas and diesel sold at temperatures topping 60 degrees.

Supporters of protections for consumers, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, contend that automatic temperature-compensation equipment should be installed on all U.S. fuel pumps. They say that would be the best way to ensure consumers truly get their money’s worth at the pump.

Advocates for the equipment point out that such technology exists in Canada – where average fuel temperatures are generally below 60 degrees. In Canada, retailers and oil companies installed the equipment voluntarily after determining that cool fuel was eating into their profits.

The California bill – AB868 – is in the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor