SPECIAL REPORT: Members of Congress turn up heat on ‘hot fuel’

| 7/3/2007

Tuesday, July 3, 2007 – Fourteen federal lawmakers are putting pressure on the National Conference on Weights and Measures to fix an issue with retail fuel temperatures that costs U.S. consumers billions each year.

And, in another breakthrough leading up to the weights and measures meeting – set for July 8-12 in Salt Lake City – a California fuel retailer plans to alert consumers with a decal that temperature can affect the amount of energy they receive when pumping fuel.

A spokeswoman from Tesoro Corp. confirmed for Land Line on Tuesday, July 3 that the company will voluntarily put decals on its retail fuel pumps in California stating that, based on temperature, the amount of energy in a gallon of fuel can vary.

The decals will state: “This pump dispenses motor fuel by volume measured in standard gallons (231 cubic inches), as certified by the California Division of Measurement Standards, without adjusting for possible variations due to temperature or other factors which may affect the energy content of each standard gallon dispensed.”

“Tesoro did make a business decision to apply decals on our pumps in California,” spokeswoman Sarah Phipps told Land Line. “However, we want to make it clear that we are squarely aligned with the industry on there being no merit to the hot fuels claims.”

“Hot fuel” refers to gasoline and diesel sold retail at temperatures above a national standard of 60 degrees.

The issue caught the attention of several federal lawmakers, who held the first U.S. House subcommittee hearing on hot fuel on June 8. Some of the House members who were at the hearing and two senators – all Democrats – sent a letter to the chairman of the nation’s weights and measures organization.

“As you are aware, a recent report conducted by subcommittee staff indicates that this practice will cost the American consumer an estimated $1.5 billion in the summer of 2007 alone,” wrote Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy of the U.S. House Committee of Oversight and Government Affairs.

The letter was dated Monday, July 2, and sent to Michael Cleary, chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures.

The conference is designed to standardize measurement on behalf of consumers nationwide. Conference members are scheduled at their meeting next week to vote on a proposal to ask retailers to install automatic temperature-compensation equipment on U.S. retail fuel pumps.

If the measure is approved, it could help ensure fuel is dispensed fairly to consumers regardless of fuel expansion in hot weather or contraction in cold weather.

As it stands now, retailers and oil companies profit from hot temperatures while compensating for temperature fluctuations at every stage of trade, except at the retail pumps.

“This is simply unacceptable,” Kucinich wrote.

On board to co-sign the letter were several members of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, including Elijah Cummings, D-MD, Danny Davis, D-IL, and Diane Watson, D-CA. All of them are supporting Kucinich in his call for a second hot fuel hearing the week of July 23 in an effort to hear testimony from oil company executives.

The big oil representatives declined invitations to the first hearing and Kucinich has said that he will subpoena them if he has to in order to hear their side of the story.

Joining in signing the letter to the Weights and Measures chairman were House Democrats Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Jim Moran of Virginia, Charles Wilson of Ohio, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, John Hall of New York, Betty Sutton of Ohio, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Barbara Boxer of California and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey also signed the letter.

Rep. Darrel Issa, R-CA, authored a separate letter telling the weights and measures officials to exercise caution before making a decision about automatic temperature compensation.

The American Petroleum Institute is lobbying the national conference to hold off on “temp comp” because the cost of retrofitting existing fuel pumps would outweigh the benefits to consumers.

– By David Tanner, staff writer