Some states take individual action to fix ‘hot fuel’

| 7/13/2007

Officials in several individual states are working on measures – either legislatively or through other means – to shrug the status quo and move toward temperature compensation at the fuel pump.

Thirty-seven states already possess the means to require fuel retailers to compensate for fuel temperatures at the pump, according to the National Conference on Weights and Measures, but reasons vary as to why those states have not taken action.

For decades, fuel has been sold by volume at retail pumps without temperature being taken into account. That status quo has led to the “hot fuel” controversy as consumers purchase less fuel energy than they pay for when fuel temperatures are higher than 60 degrees.

One sticking point for many states has been that the National Conference on Weights and Measures does not have any guidelines for them to use.

The national conference did place model guidelines on its agenda during its meeting July 8-12 in Salt Lake City, but the measure to add the guidelines to the conference’s handbook failed to receive the required number of votes for approval.

Without guidelines in place, there is no template to implement should a state legislature pass a law requiring temperature compensation.

Steve Benjamin of North Carolina, a voting member of the National Conference on Weights and Measures and a member of its Laws and Regulations Committee, told the committee this week that North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has vowed to act against the sale of hot fuel.

“There was a fear that if we do nothing, it will go to someone else’s hands and it will be done for us,” said Benjamin, who voted in favor the model guidelines.

“Our argument was, give us this tool so that if it happens, if it shows up in my state, I have some guidelines,” Benjamin told Land Line.

North Carolina, California and Arizona are on a short list of states required to approve pump technology before they can implement temperature-compensation guidelines.

In February, the California Division of Measurement Standards was the first state to approve an automatic temperature-compensation device when it OK’d a device from pump manufacturer Gilbarco Veeder-Root.

A California measurement spokesman told Land Line the state is still waiting for such equipment to reach the market, but as soon as it does, North Carolina and Arizona would likely follow California’s lead.

Gilbarco CEO Martin Grafinowitz has denied an allegation that big oil has been pressuring the company to keep the technology away from the marketplace. He told a congressional hearing in early June that there is a lack of customer demand for the devices – the customers being oil companies and fuel retailers.

State lawmakers in California, Texas and Missouri introduced bills this year to address fuel temperature and compensation at the pump. The bill in California calls for a one-year study of the issue, while proposed legislation in Texas and Missouri called for adjustment to gallon size based on temperature.

The California General Assembly referred AB868 to a committee on July 11. At press time, it remains in consideration. However, the Missouri and Texas bills died in May.

One state – Hawaii – took action in 1977 when officials there adjusted the size of a gallon of fuel from a U.S. standard of 231 cubic inches to 234 cubic inches because fuel temperatures there averaged between 75 and 80 degrees.

Not all states find it in their best interest to buck the status quo on retail fuel sales.

Five states – Montana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Vermont – have state statutes that do not permit automatic temperature-compensation equipment on retail fuel pumps.

Minnesota’s representative at the weights and measures meeting, Julie Quinn, was the only representative from those five states who crossed the line at the conference and voted in favor of the model guidelines.

It is in the northern states where fuel temperatures dip below 60 degrees more often, a standard agreed to a century ago by regulators and the fuel industry for wholesale trading.

Land Line learned that Vermont representative Ray Cioffi told the national conference that cooler fuel temperatures benefit consumers there, so he cast his vote to keep the status quo.

The National Conference on Weights and Measures voted 23-16 in favor of model regulations for reform, four votes shy of the 27 required for passage.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com