Consumer organizations say California motorists pay extra 3 cents per gallon for ‘hot gas’

BY GARY WALKER

A bid to have gas station operators in California adopt fuel-saving measures championed by a Santa Monica-based consumer group was defeated at a national conference Wednesday, July 11th.

The Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights has calculated that a phenomenon called “hot fuel” costs Californians more money at the pump due to rising gasoline temperatures.

“Because of our climate, California gas is pretty warm, compared to other states,” said Judy Dugan of the foundation.

A proposal to consider developing guidelines for station operators who choose to install temperature-correcting devices in their fuel tanks at the National Conference on Weights and Measures in Salt Lake City did not pass, to the chagrin of Dugan and other consumer activists.

“California is the hot fuel capital of the world, and our consumers lose more money than any other state,” said Dugan.

According to the Santa Monica nonprofit foundation and other consumer organizations, California motorists purchase gas that is 15 degrees higher than the government-standard of 60 degrees.

The group calculates that this costs motorists an extra three cents per gallon.

The higher the temperature, the more gasoline expands. States such as California, Arizona and Florida are the primary backers of the proposal, while states from the northern part of the country, where the climate is colder in the fall and winter, are opposed to temperature correcting devices.

Michael Cleary, executive legal counsel for the California Department of Food and Agriculture and who until this month was the chairman of the Salt Lake City meeting, told The Argonaut that the proposal that was introduced was a “permissive model law” that California gas station proprietors could implement as long as they adhered to a series of conditions, including installing the temperature control devices for at least 12 consecutive months and advertising to the general public that the establishment is employing compensation instruments.

The proposal garnered 24 votes, three shy of the total needed to approve the measure and establish guidelines.

“When an item neither passes nor fails, it goes back to the Laws and Regulations Committee for consideration,” Cleary explained.

At next year’s conference, the proposal could be voted on again, and Cleary is optimistic that it will. “I believe that a debate will come up,” he speculated. “This is a good proposal.”

Los Angeles County has been actively conducting studies on gasoline temperatures for some time, said Jeffrey Humphreys, deputy director of the county Weights and Measures Bureau.

“I haven’t seen gasoline temperatures below 60 degrees this year,” he said.

Biodiesel fuel expands, like gasoline, but not to the same degree, says Humphreys.

“But given all the diesel that is being used, the Independent Truckers Association is pushing for temperature compensation devices, too,” he pointed out.

Liquefied natural gas, or LGN, is not affected by rising temperatures.

“We sell all of our fuel by weight,” said Brian Powers of Clean Energy Fuels, the largest producer of natural gas in North America, which also supplies gas to the Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus fleet.

“We weigh the truck before and after delivery,” Powers continued. “As a result of (the fuel) being very cold, the composition doesn’t change much.”

Gasoline retailers purchase fuel that is already temperature controlled, said Humphreys.

“Typically, they buy it at about 80 degrees and sell it at about 60 degrees,” he said.

In Canada, 95 percent of that country’s gas stations are employing the temperature control devices, according to Humphreys.

“It benefits retailers there to have the compensation devices,” he says. “Here, in the United States, it’s just the opposite.”

Last year, California certified an instrument that would compensate for higher gas temperatures to be used by willing gasoline operators. The manufacturer, North Carolina-based Gilbarco Veeder-Root, says that it has not received any orders for the device.

“The manufacturer has not offered it for sale,” Humphreys countered.

“We were told that days after the device was certified to be sold in California, Gilbarco Veeder-Root decided not to sell them, for ‘business reasons’,” Dugan added.

Due to the hot fuel phenomenon, “In Los Angeles County each year, consumers stand to lose as much as $40 million gallons a year in lost fuel,” Humphreys estimated.

The temperature compensation instruments are essentially thermometer-controlled computers that are located inside a fuel tank. They measure how hot or cold the fuel is and adjusts the flow accordingly.

Like Cleary, Humphreys believes that the hot fuel measure can resurface again at the 2008 meeting.

“I definitely think that it will be brought up next year and will be talked about next year,” he said.

Cleary feels that some of the reasons that the proposal did not pass were related to more technical, complex aspects of temperature compensation.

“Certain members thought that there were some technical questions that haven’t been answered yet,” he said. There were also questions concerning the cost of installing the device, which opponents of the measure say could be substantial.

“[Temperature compensation] is technically possible; but is it fiscally possible?” Cleary asked. “You’ve got to take a look at this at some point and try to improve on what’s happening right now. The question really is, do Californians really want this?”

Dugan feels that that the time is now for Congress to act on temperature control devices, which will greatly assist motorists save millions of dollars.

“Lawmakers can grab onto this issue, sweep aside their powerful oil industry supporters and do something that’s right for their constituents,” she charged. “Or they can fiddle while Californians are being ripped off.

“And right now, the fiddlers are winning.”

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