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Congressman wants fuel fraud probe

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Friday, July 11th, 2008 at 2:07 pm in Transportation.

California is no New Jersey, it seems.

Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, (pictured on the right) after hearing about a New Jersey sting operation that found hundreds of inaccurate gasoline pumps, fired off a letter to California Attorney General Jerry Brown a few weeks ago asking the state’s top lawyer to launch a similar investigation in the Golden State.

After all, with gas at $4-plus-a-gallon, mispriced pumps, out-of-calibration equipment and even outright efforts to to defraud motorists of the nectar than feeds their automobiles is beyond heinous.

Brown’s office, so far, has politely declined to start such a probe given the existence of the state’s ongoing enforcement programs.

That’s all fine and good but I suspect such a move would meet with widespread huzzahs from consumers who simply do not believe that a single tank of gas could possibly cost $75.

California does monitor the accuracy of the state’s thousands of fuel pumps through a little-known entity called the Division of Weights and Measures. Every California county has such a division and a person designated as the Chief Sealer; the duties are part of the county’s agricultural commissioner’s office.

Contra Costa has about a half-dozen inspectors who check the county’s roughly 7,700 gas pumps for accuracy, pricing, advertising, etc., every 12 to 18 months.

They also monitor price scanners at grocery and department stores, taxi meters and other stuff that measures what we buy and eat. The businesses that use pumps and meters pay a yearly fee to fund the inspections.

Interestingly, the number of complaints about fuel inaccuracies or other problems with gas pumps has gone up in Contra Costa County along with the prices.

Contra Costa Deputy Chief Sealer Patrick Roof and he says the division has so far this year received 27 complaints, or an average of 4 1/2 a month, compared with 33 in 2007, or about three per month.

If you have a complaint about a Contra Costa County gas station, call 925-646-5250. In Alameda County, call 510-268-7343.

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  • Hilltopper

    It’s not just fraud though. When gas gets hot (e.g. in the summer), it expands and a gallon of gas has fewer BTU’s of energy. Some states require recalibration at the pumps based on temperature. California should look into it.

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  • Lisa Vorderbrueggen

    There’s been quite a bit of debate on this issue. I’ve looked it up on snopes.com and here’s what they have to say: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/gastips.asp

  • Hilltopper

    Lisa,

    I’m a big fan of Snopes. Glad you like it too. Your reply sent me to Google. You and readers might find this LA Times article of interest, particularly as California politicians are mentioned.
    http://articles.latimes.com/2007/may/09/business/fi-hotfuel9

    A couple of excerpts:

    “The overcharge is rampant, legal and hard for consumers to spot. But it’s no secret. Oil companies acknowledge it and regulators allow it. One company developed a device to fix the disparity but shelved the product after dealers resisted. Now the issue is generating heat among consumer activists, lawmakers and beleaguered fuel pumpers.”

    “Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently urged the governor and state legislature to get involved. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), a spokesman said, is “looking to see what action, if any, we could take.”

    “Truck drivers and others filed suit last year in California and several other states, accusing oil companies, service stations and truck stops of cheating customers and padding profits by skirting the temperature issue.”

  • Elwood

    Hurrah for McNerny!

    Typical legislator/congressman.

    Looking for a problem and attempting to create one where none exists.

    It’s good to see Barbara Boxer is on top of this. She wasn’t voted the stupidest senator for nothing.

  • Manny

    Creating a problem out of nothing? California is being suffocated by these high prices and that’s not a problem? Thank you McNerney for all you’ve done for this district.