ATA, Coalition Want California to Ban Temperature Controls at Gas Pumps

By Amy McMahon, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the March 24 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

American Trucking Associations and the Partnership for Uniform Marketing Practices recently requested that California prohibit the use of automatic temperature compensation equipment in retail fuel sales.

ATA and the PUMP coalition said the state has no regulations regarding the use of ATCs, devices intended to compensate for volume changes of fuel at various temperatures. They said allowing fuel retailers to use the equipment would confuse customers.

“[The] greatest concern is that the use of the equipment would be abused by the retailer and selectively turned on and off when it is advantageous to the retailer,” Rich Moskowitz, ATA vice president and regulatory affairs counsel, told Transport Topics.

Moskowitz’s March 3 letter to the California Division of Measurement Standards said, “California has not promulgated regulations or enforcement procedures governing the use of ATC, which could be detrimental to fuel consumers in California.”

Also, “neither California nor the National Conference on Weights and Measures has established specifications or inspection and maintenance procedures governing the accuracy of this equipment,” Moskowitz wrote in ATA’s letter.

In its Feb. 27 letter, PUMP said, “It is necessary for consumers to be properly educated on the technology to minimize confusion about the use of ATC equipment in fuel purchases.”

Both organizations said they opposed mandatory and permissive temperature compensation in retail fuel sales.

Last year, NCWM rejected a measure allowing states to require that retailers adjust fuel transactions according to temperature (7-16, p. 3).

NCWM’s Western Conference wanted a vote on permissive temperature compensation at the July 2008 NCWM meeting, but the national organization decided in January not to vote on the use of ATC before July 2009.

However, California’s Energy Commission is conducting a cost-benefit analysis on implementing automatic temperature control devices at retail stations.
ATA and PUMP also said that the lack of regulations governing the use of ATC would cloud the transparency of retail fuel sales.

“U.S. motorists [rely] on price signs to comparison shop,” said Mindy Long, spokeswoman for NATSO, which is a member of PUMP. “If California allows permissive ATC, drivers need to realize that they would no longer be comparing apples to apples when using outside signs to determine where to buy fuel.”

NATSO is a trade association representing truck stops and travel plazas.

ATA and NATSO said uniform labeling requirements would be a necessity, if temperature compensation continues to move forward in California.

The PUMP coalition and ATA have argued in the past that requiring ATC is premature, because there has been no third-party study on the economic effects of temperature compensation. The Government Accountability Office is studying the effects of selling temperature-adjusted fuel.

Although temperature compensation applies in Canada, Long said its enactment would be “a major shift” in fuel dispensation in the United States.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told TT that the use of ATC in Canada is evidence that U.S. retailers oppose it for reasons of personal gain.

“In every instance where it benefits [retailers] to adjust, they do. When it benefits the retail consumer, whether driving a truck or a car, they don’t,” Spencer said.

ATA and other PUMP members maintain that “any impact of temperature variances is eliminated through competitive pricing” (1-28, p. 2).

By urging California’s Division of Measurement Standards to prohibit ATC, PUMP is “busily engaged in the practice of obstructing a fair practice for consumers, whether they drive cars or trucks,” Spencer said.

It is “absolutely stunning that a trucking organization that claims to represent truckers would be a part of that,” he added.