California Legislature OKs bill tackling hot fuel issue

| 9/21/2007

A bill in California calling for a study to analyze the problem of “hot fuel” in the state along with possible solutions to make sure consumers get what they pay for at the pump is headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

Federal government standards define a gallon of fuel as 231 cubic inches at 60 degrees. The 60-degree mark is a century-old standard for the petroleum industry. When fuel is warmer than that 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, 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.

Assembly lawmakers voted Sept. 10 to adopt Senate changes to the bill. The action cleared the way for the bill – AB868 – to advance to the governor.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, the bill would require a survey and cost benefit-analysis and recommendations for the Legislature about future legislation and regulations regarding the reference temperature for fuel dispensation. The information would have to be submitted by Jan. 1, 2009.

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

The issue of hot fuel is drawing a lot 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.

To view other legislative activities of interest for California in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor