FROM THE EDITOR: “Hot fuel” - The Kansas City Star’s next Pulitzer?

| 8/31/2006

It is clearly not a good time for big oil companies to play fast and loose with the cost of a gallon of fuel.

On Aug. 27, "Hot fuel for you, cold cash for big oil" was published by The Kansas City Star as a special StarWatchdog Report. Exposing issues already familiar to truckers, the article prompted a roar of pain and surprise from mainstream readers.

The copy leapt off the page - "when gasoline gets hot, it expands ... and it's costing American consumers about $2.3 billion a year." It didn't take consumers long to realize that if they bought "hot" fuel, they were getting ripped off.

Twelve other newspapers picked up that story, written by Star staff writer Steve Everly. But while Everly's story appeared to have pulled out all the stops, The Star had just begun to make its case.

On Aug.28, part two -"Technology, new rules a hot-fuel mix" hit the streets. The articles did something few achieve - they actually precipitated action. The California Attorney General's Office suddenly launched an investigation of gas stations and truck stops selling "hot" fuel to consumers without making adjustments for changes in fuel volume.

In Missouri, Claire McCaskill, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat, was clearly disturbed over the report. According to The Star, she said someone needs to step forward and take up the cause and that "Now we find out that we're not even getting a gallon when we pay for a gallon."

On Aug. 30, the Charlotte Observer reported a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Attorney General's Office said based on the concerns pointed out by the series in The Star, they were reviewing the articles and taking a look at the issues they bring up.

Everly and others involved in research for the series reported they "reviewed hundreds of industry and government documents going back nearly a century, traveled across the country, and interviewed scores of government, industry and consumer sources to assess the impact of temperature on fuel."

They collected piles of data on fuel temperatures from places like the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a major source of information. The Star also tested the temperature of fuel samples taken from Kansas City-area gas stations.

The outrage being felt by mainstream readers is nothing new to truckers. More than two year ago, Land Line Magazine reported on the rip-off and a year ago, "Land Line Now" on XM Satellite Radio began reporting on the same issue. Land Line's reports were based on the exhaustive research of OOIDA's John Siebert, who has worked on the hot fuel problem since July 2002. Siebert's investigation included sampling of fuel at more than 30 different retailers via OOIDA's truck, the "Spirit of the American Trucker."

"To say that I was impressed with the way Steve Everly researched and developed the 'Hot Fuel' articles would be a huge understatement," said OOIDA's Siebert. "The stories and their subsequent impact have soared to heights I had barely hoped to imagine. While so many citizens look to governmental agencies for social justice, the true champion of social justice is our nation's free press. In the great tradition of investigative reporting, Mr. Everly, The Kansas City Star and the McClatchy Newspaper Group have taken a 'Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!' approach to this very important issue."

Siebert, who is a project manager for the OOIDA Foundation, believes The Star and Steve Everly both deserve to carve a "Pulitzer Notch" in their collective gun belts.

We second that notion.

- By Sandi Soendker, managing editor

Click here to read part one, part two and The Star's two follow-up stories: