California bills cover fuel price manipulation, emission reduction

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, September 20, 2013

Two bills on their way to the governor’s desk in California are intended to draw the curtain on volatile fuel prices and continue vehicle fees that support emission reduction efforts.

The Senate voted 21-17 to agree to changes to a bill that would create an office of fuel price investigation and manipulation prevention at the California Energy Commission. The vote cleared the way for SB448 to move to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said his bill would authorize the new office to investigate potential incidents of illegal activity and recommend how to reduce price volatility in the state.

In the past 18 months, many places around the state have seen fuel prices rise above $5 per gallon. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported the average price of a gallon of on-highway diesel fuel in California this week is $4.228 – the highest in the nation.

During the 2012 price spikes in California, Leno said fuel producers indicated that unexpected refinery slowdowns created a gap in fuel supply. However, independent research found that fuel inventory levels in California had in fact increased during that time.

The research indicated that other market forces, possibly the withholding of supply, were likely at play.

Leno said that unpredictable pain at the pump affects the economy, small businesses and the pocketbooks of Californians, who are already trying to do more with less.

“Instead of always putting consumers at the mercy of a few major oil companies that control fuel prices, California needs a clear process through which we can protect consumers against fuel price volatility and investigate potential cases of price manipulation,” Leno said in a recent statement.

Another bill headed to the governor would extend for eight to nine years the 2016 sunset date on all registration and license fees at current rates.

Multiple vehicle fees were added in 2007 to help fund multiple clean air and clean vehicle incentive programs. One of the programs is intended to raise revenue to develop alternative fuel and clean-air technology in the state.

In an effort to reach that goal, the bill would continue until 2024 an increase in the annual vehicle smog-abatement fee by $8 and the registration fee by $3.

It is a follow-up to a bill signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 that requires the state to cut the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 25 percent. The state has until 2020 to match emissions levels from 1990.

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

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