Michigan bills target fuel stations that shortchange drivers

| 9/1/2005

Escalating fuel prices have prompted legislative efforts in Michigan and action by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to make sure fuel pumps around the state work properly. The efforts began before the current fuel concerns in Hurricane Katrina’s wake.

On top of the fact the price of diesel and gasoline are hovering near $3 a gallon and the cost of a barrel of oil is above $65, drivers in Michigan have been questioning whether they are getting what they pay for.

In response, the state’s House Agriculture Committee last week approved efforts to bring hefty fines on fuel stations that short customers. The bills – HB4501 and HB4502 – have been sent to the full House for further consideration.

Consumer complaints this year are up 17 percent from a year ago, to more than 1,200, the Lansing State Journal reported. Most complaints are about quantity.

During a targeted period last summer, state inspectors found that 29 percent of 950 fuel pumps tested failed to meet quality standards and 12 percent failed to meet quantity standards, Michigan Live reported.

The legislation would keep first-offense fines between $100 and $500 for quality violations, and between $50 and $1,000 for quantity violations.

However, stations that have repeat offenses within five years would face double fines in some cases. For quality violations, second-offense fines would jump to between $1,000 and $2,000. Third offenses would be between $2,000 and $4,000. For quantity violations, second-offense fines within two years would climb to between $1,000 and $7,500. Third-violation fines would be between $2,000 and $10,000.

In the meantime, enforcement efforts will be boosted by Granholm’s decision last week to use $1.3 million appropriated by the Legislature to double the number of pump inspectors in the state. To save money, the administration had earlier decided to put off the additional hires, but now says more inspectors are needed to address rising consumer complaints, the Journal reported.

Additional workers are expected to help the department reach about 3,400 of the state’s 5,100 stations and other facilities annually.

Consumers in Michigan who believe they’ve been bilked at the pump should call the state’s Department of Agriculture hot line at 1-800-MDA-FUEL (1-800-632-3835).