1-28-08 by dugan
A t-shirt widely sold in Albuquerque, N.M., where the National Conference on Weights and Measures is meeting, says: "Keep the Quirky in ‘Querque." Today was "Quirky" and far, far more at this meeting. Oil and gasoline lobbyists spent seven hours railing to a committee that fixing the "hot fuel" ripoff would be Armageddon for gasoline stations, and would hopelessly confuse motorists who are now paying more than a billion dollars a year for the privilege of not being confused. The committee members just kept nodding soberly; objections to this hysteria were few.
The shoot-em-up movie being filmed outside the hotel offered the right setting for this regulatory Wild West of bad science and specious arguments.
The Northeastern regional weights and measures group revealed a lot about its inner workings in a printed statement against adjusting fuel for temperature. It said:
"The National Conference on Weights and Measures is an organization made up of weights and measures officials and industry representatives that consistently over the years has worked as a consensus organization."
It’s a good thing the regulators who brought about cleaner air and safer automobiles weren’t operating on this kind of consensus. Otherwise, we’d all still be driving Pintos.
The shred of good news was from California regulators, who said they knew of at least two station owners who intend to sell gasoline adjusted for temperature, and expect to get plenty of customer loyalty. They should, because the stations will be selling gallons that always deliver the same energy from a pump that adjusts for temperature. The California weights and measures guys argued, with impeccable logic, that if the national weights and measures group refused to publish standards for these temperature-sensitive pumps, there would be no way to regulate them.
But mostly it was lobbyist after lobbyist insisting that there is nothing unfair about selling consumers the equivalent of a two-legged stool.
Motorists can see the price of the gasoline, and know the physical amount they’re buying. But they have no idea of the temperature of the gasoline. Hot gas adds up to cold cash for retailers, wholesalers and oil companies.
If gasoline reaches a summer-hot 100 degrees (not that uncommon), motorists lose almost a dime’s worth of energy per gallon from expansion of the fuel. Long-distance truckers who buy a full 200-gallon tank before going to bed say they often find the gasoline has shrunk and pulled the needle back from "full" when it cools off overnight.
No wonder it was a representative of independent truckers (see their hot fuel website) who sat beside me, waiting to get a word in edgewise between the petroleum lobbyists.
The American Petroleum Institute sent a top lobbyist, as did big chains of branded gasoline. State petroleum trade groups sent mlore lobbyists. All of them poured crocodile tears for small, independent rural gasoline stations, saying they would be driven out of business by the cost of the new equipment. Never mind that such small mom ‘n pop stations would be exempted, perhaps for good, from new regulations.
The big-oil guys wept for their franchisees, even though they’re the ones charging so much at wholesale that station owners are addicted to the extra cash from selling hot fuel.
It would all be funny if so many of the regulators who make up the NCWM weren’t on the lobbyists’ side (though some of them did have the grace to be embarrassed by their faux science).
Showdown meetings tomorrow. More later.