Some pumps now have hot-fuel warnings

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Some West Coast fuel pumps now carry labeled warnings that the energy content of fuel varies with temperature. Meanwhile, a U.S. senator has introduced a bill that would require pumps to have automatic temperature compensation devices.

Fuel expands as its temperature rises, but is sold by volume at the retail pump at a benchmark of 60 degrees. Elsewhere in the supply chain, fuel is sold temperature-adjusted, meaning slightly more gasoline and diesel are provided at higher temperatures.

Many Mobil and Exxon stations in California have placed a small “Motor Fuel Measurement Notice” on their pumps, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights reported Aug. 9. According to photos on the group’s website, the notice reads: “This device dispenses motor fuel by volume measured in gallons. It does not adjust the volume for variations in the temperature of the fuel. The temperature of motor fuel affects the energy content of each gallon dispensed.”

ExxonMobil also is putting decals on some Arizona pumps, as refiner Tesoro has done at its California stations, including the USA Petroleum chain and more than 250 Shell stations recently acquired by the company, the foundation said. It called the stickers “a strategy to fend off ‘hot-fuel’ lawsuits and allow the rip-off to continue.” ExxonMobil, Shell and Tesoro did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

NATSO spokeswoman Mindy Long said she knew of no plans to label diesel pumps among the truck stops and travel plazas in the membership. While NATSO has no position on the labels, it is against mandatory temperature compensation devices, Long said, arguing that the expense of installing and monitoring the machines simply would be passed on to consumers. NATSO wants an independent study done of the economic and scientific effects of temperature variation.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., proposed legislation Aug. 3 that would require the installation of automatic temperature compensating equipment in new and upgraded retail pumps within six years. The Future Accountability in Retail Fuel Act would provide assistance for retailers to comply — $1,000 per pump, but no more than $10,000 per retailer — and impose penalties on those that don’t. The bill, S1997, has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

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The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, based in McCaskill’s home state, has endorsed the legislation, as has Public Citizen, Consumers Union, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the Consumer Federation of America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups.