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Cool News About 'Hot Fuel'

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

The fight over “hot fuel” has gone on for years, but now there’s welcome news: Three major gasoline retailers have agreed to settle lawsuits accusing them of selling fuel that hasn’t been adjusted for temperature.

As Judy Dugan of Consumer Watchdog in California put it, “The wall of resistance is crumbling .…”

Adjusting fuel for temperature is important because fuel expands as it gets warm, while the volume of a standard gallon stays the same. Hence, a standard gallon of warmer fuel has less energy, even though you pay the same price.

It works in the opposite direction as well, and to the disadvantage of retailers. Colder fuel contracts, packing more energy in the same space. That’s why the industry has made sure that gas pumps in Canada can make the needed adjustment.

Consumer advocates rightly say the public should get the same deal: Drivers should be reasonably confident they’re buying the same oomph for their car at a given price, whether it’s August or January. To press for that goal, dozens of lawsuits have been filed across the nation.

This week it was learned that lawyers for Valero Energy Corp. and Casey’s General Stores Inc. — along with Wal-Mart and its Sam’s Club subsidiary — have notified the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., that they have reached an “enforceable settlement agreement” in their suits. Details of the settlements, which await the approval of District Judge Kathryn Vratil, were not made public.

In 2006, a Star investigation found that hot fuel sold without temperature adjustment cost the motoring public more than $2.3 billion — or about $3.5 billion at today’s hefty prices. Three years later, a big retailer said it would settle. Costco agreed to equip its pumps with temperature-adjustment technology — terms that could hint at how Wal-Mart, Valero and Casey’s might resolve their cases.

The Costco announcement seemed like a major step forward, but that deal had to be redrafted, and now it, too, awaits judicial approval. Yet the decision by Wal-Mart, Valero and Casey could be a welcome sign of progress on the hot-fuel issue.