IJnited States General Accounting Office GAO Report to ~n~ssional Requesters April 1990 GASOLINE MARKETING Consumers Have Limited Assurance That Octane Ratings Are Accurate T& I 11 141203 GAO/RCED-90-50 Resowces, Community, and Economic Development Division B-227776 April 16,199O The Honorable Philip R. Sharp Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy and Power Committee on Energy and Commerce House of Representatives The Honorable Charles E. Schumer House of Representatives As you requested, we reviewed the Federal Trade Commission’s(FK) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) implementation of the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act’s gasoline octane certification and posting requirements. This report discusseswhether the act’s objective of providing consumerswith accurate information about gasoline octane ratings is being met. As arranged with your offices, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days from the date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies to the Chairman, FTC,the Administrator, EPA, and other interested parties. We will also make copies available to others upon request. This work was done under the direction of Victor S. Rezendes,Director, Energy Issues,(202) 2751441. Other major contributors are listed in appendix I. V J. Dexter Peach Assistant Comptroller General l!Cxecutive A major concern of consumersbuying gasoline is that they purchase a Purpose gasoline with an octane rating that meets their vehicles’ octane require- ments. In 1978, the Congressenacted the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act to provide a uniform nationwide system for posting accurate octane ratings at the point of sale (on the pump), informing consumersof the octane rating of the gasoline they were purchasing. The act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Trade Commis- sion (FTC),respectively, to test the octane ratings and enforce compli- ance with the act. The Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy and Power, House Committee on Energy and Commerce,and Representative Charles E. Schumer asked GAO to determine (1) the effectiveness of the act in ensuring that octane ratings are posted accurately, (2) the extent and source of any octane mislabeling-the sale of gasoline with an octane rating lower than posted on the pumps-in the gasoline distribution sys- tem, and (3) the appropriate federal role in ensuring that octane ratings are posted accurately. Gasoline is generally sold to consumersin three different octane Background levels-87,89 and 91 or above. The price of gasoline is tied to the octane level; higher octane gasolinescost more then lower octane gaso- lines. As gasoline is refined and transported through a complex distribu- tion system to retail stations, gasoline octane can be accidentally or intentionally mislabeled. For example, gasoline labeled as 89 octane might be lower in octane than the posted rating. The lower octane could result in reduced vehicle engine efficiency, possible engine damage,and increased emissions.In addition, the consumer would be paying for octane that is not received. To guard against mislabeling, the act requires the determination and certification of octane levels at the time gasoline leaves the refinery and at subsequentpoints in the distribution system and the posting of octane ratings at the gasoline pump. In addi- tion to EPA and FM:responsibilities to enforce accurate octane postings, 20 states, on their own initiative, also test octane ratings. Results in Brief BecauseFTC and EPA have not carried out their octane testing and enforcement responsibilities under the act, there are no federal controls to ensure that gasoline octane postings are accurate. Although nation- wide information on the accuracy of octane ratings is not collected at the federal level, industry and state information indicates that octane mislabeling is a problem in somestates. While this information is not sufficient to determine the nationwide extent or source of mislabeling, it Page 2 GAO/RCED-90-60Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling indicates that consumersmay be paying millions of dollars each year for gasoline with lower octane levels than what is posted on the pump. GAO also is concernedthat the act lacks provisions for posting octane ratings for gasoline-alcoholblends and has other provisions that may interfere with state octane enforcement efforts. GAO believes that options exist for redefining federal responsibilities for implementing the act in a way likely to result in greater assurancethat posted octane rat- ings are accurate. Principal Findings Extent of Mislabeling FIGhas not monitored compliance with the act’s octane posting require- Unknown ments or prosecuted violators, nor has EPA tested octane ratings at retail stations since 1981. FM:and EPA officials cited staff and budget cuts as reasonsfor not implementing the act’s requirements. EPA officials also said that during the period in which they tested octane, FE never used the test results to prosecute violators. EPA compiled data for GAO from biannual gasoline quality surveys con- ducted between 1979 and 1987 by the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association. The surveys cover markets representing over 90 percent of the total domestic gasoline consumption. An analysis of these data revealed that over 9 percent of the gasoline sampled was mislabeled by more than one-half point below the posted octane rating. Any mislabel- ing can result in consumerspaying a significant amount for octane they do not receive. For example, assuming that 9 percent of gasoline sold in 1988 was mislabeled by only one-half octane number, GAO estimates that consumerscould have paid about $160 million for octane they did not receive. GAO obtained test results from 11 of the 20 states that test octane and found that in the majority of these states mislabeling was less than 2 percent for the 1986-1988period of GAO'S review. Officials from these states attribute the low rate of mislabeling to their state octane testing programs. On the other hand, officials in seven states GAO visited that do not have an octane testing program believe that mislabeling is a problem in their states. One-time tests of gasoline octane levels in four of these seven states, including tests conducted for GAO by EPA primarily in two . I * , Exeentive Snmmary areas in two states, revealed that mislabeling of gasoline samples ranged from 22 to 63 percent. While mislabeling may occur at any place in the gasoline distribution system, there is more potential for it to occur at distributors or retail stations than at refineries, pipelines, or bulk terminals, becausethese latter locations are covered by extensive quality control programs that include frequent testing of octane ratings. Few distributors or retailers test octane ratings, primarily becauseof the cost, The Act’s Restrictions FTChas taken a narrow interpretation of the act and limited its applica- tion to traditional gasoline fuels and excluded the newer gasoline-alcohol blends from the act’s octane posting requirements. As the use of these and other alternative fuels is increasingly required in urban areas to reduce air pollution, consumerscould be without information on the octane levels of these newer fuels. Further, the act authorizes only limited civil remedies and penalties for mislabeling violations and appears to preempt any applicable state or local enforcement provisions differing from those of the act. Officials from states that test octane ratings believe other remedies and penalties can be more effective and cost-efficient in ensuring that posted octane ratings are accurate but expressedconcern that such actions could be challenged as being outside the authority of the act. For example, stop sale orders, although not allowed under the act, are used by some states to immediately halt the sale of mislabeled gasoline. Federal Role According to FTCand EPA, monitoring compliance with the act and prose- cuting violators are not possible without additional funds-a problem given the current budget deficit. Neither FTC nor EPA had an estimate of how much it would cost to carry out their testing and enforcement responsibilities. Since about half the states currently have or are consid- ering instituting octane testing programs, there may be options involv- ing both federal and state efforts for carrying out the act’s objectives. State officials interviewed in GAO'S review indicated an interest in such an approach. Page 4 GAO/RCED&O-SO Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling Executive Summary GAO recommendsthat the Congressamend the Petroleum Marketing Recommendationsto Practices Act to the Congress . include octane certification and posting requirements for gasoline-alco- hol blends and other alternative motor fuels that may becomeavailable to reduce air pollution and . make it clear that states may employ a range of remedies broader than those available under the act to enforce octane posting requirements. GAO recommendsthat the Chairman, FTC,and the Administrator, EPA, in Recommendationsto consultation with the appropriate congressionalcommittees and the the Federal Trade states take the following actions: Commission and the Develop and assessoptions that could be employed to monitor compli- Environmental l ante with the act’s octane certification and posting requirements. Such Protection Agency options should include a total federal role, joint federal-state roles, and a total state role. . Report the results of their evaluations and their recommendations, along with funding requirements and recommendations for any neededlegisla- tive changes,to the Congress. GAO discussedthe information contained in this report with FTCand EPA Agency Comments officials and incorporated their comments where appropriate. Agency officials generally agreed with the accuracy of the information pre- sented relating to their agency’s activities. However, as requested, GAO did not ask either agency for official written comments on this report, Page5 Contents Executive Summary 2 Chapter 1 8 Introduction Octane Ratings Federal OctanePosting Requirements 8 9 State Octane Testing 10 Objectives,Scope,and Methodology 12 Chapter 2 16 Mislabeling Occurs but Federal and Industry Mislabeling Information State Mislabeling Information 16 16 Extent Is Unknown Sourcesof Mislabeling in the Distribution System 20 Impact of Mislabeling on Consumers 26 Conclusions 26 Chapter 3 27 FTC and EPA Have PMPA Not Fully Implemented Posting Requirement Only Covers Gasoline 27 29 Not Effectively PMPA May Interfere With State Enforcement Efforts 30 Implemented the Options to Implement Monitoring and Enforcement 31 Pe&oleum Marketing Conclusions 33 Recommendationsto the Congress 34 Practices Act Recommendationsto the Federal Trade Commission and 34 the Environmental Protection Agency Appendix Appendix I: Major Contributors to This Report 36 Related GAO Products 40 Tables Table 1.1: Octane Ratings and Market Sharesof the Four 8 Most Common GasolineGradesSold in 1988 Table 2.1: Mislabeling in 11 States That Test Octane 17 Ratings for the Years 1986-88 Table 2.2: Oregon and TennesseeOctaneTest Results 18 Table 2.3: Michigan and Missouri OctaneTest Results 19 Figures y Figure 1.1: Federal Octane Rating Label 10 Figure 1.2: States With OctaneTesting Programs 11 Figure 2.1: Domestic Gasoline Distribution System 21 Page 0 GAO/RCED-BMOGasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling Abbreviations API American Petroleum Institute EPA Environmental Protection Agency FIT Federal Trade Commission GAO General Accounting Office MVMA Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association PMPA Petroleum Marketing Practices Act RCED Resources,Community, and Economic Development Division Page7 GAO/lKXD-B&50 Gasoline Marketingz Octane Labeling Chapter 1 Introduction In 1988 millions of American consumerspurchased over 113 billion gal- lons of gasoline. A major concern of consumerswhen buying gasoline is that they purchase a gasoline with an octane rating that meets their vehicles’ octane requirements. The price of gasoline is tied to the octane rating-higher octane gasolinescost more than lower octane gasolines. In 19’78the Congressenacted the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA), in part, to provide a uniform nationwide system for posting octane ratings at the point of sale (on the pump) so consumerswould be informed of the octane rating of the gasoline they were purchasing. Octane is a rating applied to gasoline used in spark ignition engines’ that Octane Ratings indicates their resistance to engine knock: the higher the rating, the greater the resistance to engine knock. Engine knock is a metallic “ping- ing” or “knocking” noise causedby improper combustion; instead of burning smoothly, a portion of the fuel-air mixture explodes prema- turely in the engine cylinder. Table 1.1 shows the typical octane ratings and market shares of the four most common gasoline grades sold in the United States in 1988, accord- ing to information compiled from industry market surveys. Table 1.1: Octane Ratings and Market Shares of the Four Most Common Octane Market share Gasoline Grades Sold In 1988 Gasoline grade rating (percent) Unleaded Premium unleaded 91-94 28 / Midgrade unleaded 89 5 Reaular unleaded 87 54 Leaded Regular leaded 89 13 Engine Octane The octane requirements of enginesvary. In general, higher perform- Requirements Vary ance and higher compressionengineshave higher octane requirements becausethey have higher internal operating temperatures. Most auto- mobiles sold in the United States are equipped with engines designedto use 87 octane (regular) unleaded gasoline. ‘The vast majority of motor vehicles in the United States are powered by such engines; the remainder are powered by diesel engines. Page 8 GAO/RCED-90-50Gasoline Marketing Octane Labeling Chnptm 1 Introduction Octane requirements also vary depending on driving conditions. Requirements are lower for moderate driving conditions, such as driving at a constant speedon a level road, and higher under stressful driving conditions, such as during rapid acceleration or pulling a heavy load up a hill. Similarly, octane requirements vary depending on environmental conditions, such as altitude and temperature. Consumers Need to Know Consumersneed to buy gasoline with an octane rating that matches Octane Ratings their engines’ octane requirements. Buying gasoline with too little octane can causeengine knock, which can damage an engine, lower engine effi- ciency, reduce mileage, and increase emissions.On the other hand, buy- ing gasoline with more octane than neededgenerally doesnot increase engine efficiency or power, and since higher octane gasoline has a greater retail price than lower octane gasoline, consumerspay for octane they do not need. As gasoline is refined and transported through a complex distribution system to retail stations, gasoline octane ratings can be accidentally or intentionally mislabeled. For example, gasoline labeled as 89 octane might be lower in octane than the posted rating. As discussedpreviously, octane lower than neededcould have harmful effects, Unfortunately, consumerscannot determine octane ratings visu- ally or in other ways that allow them to know if they are getting what they are paying for. Assurancesare therefore neededthat octane rat- ings are accurate. The Congressenacted PMPAin 1978, in part, to provide consumerswith Federal Octane information about the octane ratings of the gasoline they were buying. Posting Requirements Before the enactment of PMPA,octane posting was not universal or uniform. Title II of PMPAdirects the Federal Trade Commission(IWC)to promul- gate a rule to implement and enforce a uniform nationwide system of octane posting, to monitor the accuracy of posted ratings, and to prose- cute violators. FTCwas given this role becauseit had the responsibility for enforcing regulations prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts in com- merce under the Federal Trade CommissionAct. PMPAalso directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to test the octane ratings of gas- oline samplestaken from retail stations nationwide and to report the results to FTC. EPAwas given the sampling and testing duties to minimize the cost of the program. EPAat that time was sampling and testing gaso- line to enforce its gasoline lead content regulations. Page 9 GAO/WED-90-50 Gasoliue Marketlug: Octaue Labeliug Chapter 1 Introduction Title II of PMPA also . requires (1) refiners and importers to determine and certify octane rat- ings to their customers,(2) distributors to certify octane ratings to their customers, and (3) retailers to post octane ratings on their pumps; 9 requires automobile manufacturers to discloseengine octane require- ments to consumersby posting a label in the vehicle or by including the information in the vehicle owner’s manual;.and . authorizes FTCto seek civil penalties in federal district court against vio- lators of up to $10,000 per violation under provisions of the Federal Trade CommissionAct. Figure 1.1 shows an example of the label gasoline retailers are required to post on their pumps. Flgure 1.1: Federal Octane Rating Label MINIMUM OCTANE RATING (R + M)/2 METHOD 89 Note: Labels are bright yellow with black lettering. Source: 16 C.F.R. 306.11 In addition to the federal testing and enforcement requirements, 20 State Octane Testing states test gasoline octane ratings through their own initiative to ensure that posted ratings are accurate (see fig. 1.2). Someof these states have 4 their own gasoline testing laboratories, while others contract with other states’ laboratories or with private laboratories. Somelocal governments Page 10 GAO/RCRD-90-50Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling Chapter 1 Introduction also test octane ratings. Most state and local octane testing predates PMPA. Figure 1.2: States With Octane Testing Programs I No Octane Testing Program Octane Testing Program in Effect Thirty states and the District of Columbia do not test octane ratings. Y However, 13 of these states are considering such testing. Page 11 GAO/RCED-90-50GasoWe Marketiugz octane Labeliug Chapter1 Introduction The Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy and Power, HouseCommittee Objectives, Scope,and on Energy and Commerce,and Representative Charles E. Schumer asked Methodology GAO to evaluate the implementation of PMPA'S octane certification and posting requirements. Specific questions posed by the Chairman and Representative Schumer included: . What is the extent and source of any octane mislabeling-the sale of gasoline with an octane rating lower than posted on the pump-in the domestic gasoline distribution system? Has PMPA been effective in ensuring that octane ratings are posted accurately? What is the appropriate federal role in ensuring that octane ratings are posted accurately? To answer these questions, we discussedthem and related issueswith officials from FTC, EPA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Depart- ments of Commerceand Transportation; seven states that test gasoline octane (Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia); seven states that do not test gasoline octane (Indiana, Michigan, Mis- souri, Montana, Oregon,Tennessee,and Washington); the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs; General Motors ResearchLaboratories; the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association (MVMA), a trade associa- tion which gathers various types of information for domestic motor vehicle manufacturers; interested consumer groups, including the American Automobile Associ- ation, the Center for Auto Safety, and the ConsumersUnion; eight large and one small refiner; three large common carrier interstate petroleum products pipeline companies; four independent distributors of gasoline and other petroleum products; and petroleum industry associations,including the American Petroleum Institute, the National Petroleum Refiners Association, the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, the Service Station Dealers of America, the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America, and the Western States Petroleum Association. To determine the extent and source of any octane mislabeling, we obtained and reviewed octane test results from the following sources: Page 12 GAO/RCFfD-90-50 Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling chapter 1 Introduction . MVMA'S biannual surveys of gasoline quality for the years 19791987. . Eleven states that tested octane ratings primarily for the years 1986- 1988 (Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia). The states used various testing methodologies from random selectionsto targeted selections. l Oregon and Tennessee,which conducted limited one-time gasoline qual- ity surveys in 1987 and 1988, respectively. Gasoline sampleswere selectedprimarily at random; however, Oregontargeted somestations for sampling. In addition, we requested that EPA test the octane ratings of 66 samples collected by state officials from retail stations primarily in the Detroit, Michigan, and St. Louis, Missouri, areas. We selectedthese cities for test- ing becauseMichigan and Missouri officials were concernedthat there was a mislabeling problem in these and other locations in their states. The samples were taken from retail stations suspectedof mislabeling gasoline. We did not evaluate any of the testing methodologies nor ver- ify any of the test results obtained from MVMA, states, or EPA; thus, none of the data obtained from our sourcesis projectable on a nationwide basis. We also obtained information about the quality control procedures that exist in the gasoline distribution system from refiners and pipeline com- panies. To observe how these procedures were applied, we visited 6 refineries and refinery quality control laboratories, 3 pipeline company pumping and switching facilities, 8 bulk terminals, 10 wholesalers, and 8 state gasoline testing laboratories. We compared the quality control procedures found in the gasoline distribution system with PMPA'S octane certification and posting requirements to determine whether the proce- dures were consistent with PMPA. We also examined octane testing labo- ratory reports, gasoline shipment invoices, and other related documents. To evaluate how effective PMPA has been in ensuring that posted octane ratings are accurate, we reviewed FTC'S and EPA'S enforcement and test- ing activities since PMPA was enacted in 1978. As part of this effort, we reviewed both agencies’Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act reports for previously reported weaknessesin their enforcement and testing programs. Neither agency had reported any weaknessesin this area. To address the question regarding the appropriate federal role in ensur- ing that posted octane ratings are accurate, we reviewed Senateand Page 13 GAO/RCElD-90-50 Gasoline Market& Octane Labeling chapter 1 Introduction House Committee Reports and other documents to obtain the rationale for enacting PMPA; determined the past and current federal role and the extent of state involvement; and discussedthe role of the federal gov- ernment with petroleum industry officials and associations,consumer groups, and federal, state, and local government officials. We discussedthe information contained in this report with FTC and EPA officials and incorporated their comments where appropriate. Agency officials generally agreed with the accuracy of the information pre- sented relating to their agency’s activities. However, as requested, we did not ask either agency for official written comments on this report. Our review was conducted between April 1988 and August 1989, and, except as noted above, in accordancewith generally acceptedgovern- ment auditing standards. Page 14 GAO/RCED-90-130 Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling Chapter 2 Mislabeling Occursbut Extent Is Unknown . Although there is no current information at the federal level on the nationwide extent of mislabeling, industry and state information indi- cates that mislabeling is occurring. While the information is not suffi- cient to determine the extent of octane mislabeling nationwide or the source of mislabeling, it indicates that consumersmay be paying mil- lions of dollars for gasoline octane they do not receive. There appears, however, to be a greater potential for mislabeling at gasoline wholesal- ers (distributors) and retail stations than at refiners or bulk (storage) terminals where quality control procedures are more extensively used. Although PMPA directs EPA to test gasoline octane ratings at retail sta- Federal and Industry tions nationwide to ensure that posted ratings are accurate, EPA did so Mislabeling for only 2 years. In fiscal years 1980-81EPA tested 2,264 gasoline sam- Information pies. Our analysis of 1,388 available samplesshowed that about 7 per- cent were mislabeled below the posted rating.’ EPA stopped testing octane ratings at the end of 1981, according to EPA officials, in part becauseof staff and budget cuts. No other federal agency tests gasoline octane ratings to ensure that posted ratings are accurate. While there is no recent federal information available either at EPA or FTC,there are industry surveys of gasoline quality that include tests of octane ratings at retail stations, for example, the biannual surveys con- ducted by the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association. According to a MVMA official, these surveys currently cover 26 markets, which repre- sent over 90 percent of domestic gasoline consumption, MVMA data show posted and actual octane ratings found at the stations included in their surveys. At our request, EPA analyzed MVMA survey data conducted between 1979 and 1987 using a six-tenths octane point tolerance level and provided the results to us. The results showed that about 9 percent of all gasoline samplestested were mislabeled below the posted octane rating. Mislabeling occurred more frequently in premium (higher octane) gasolines-about 11 percent of the premium samplestested were misla- beled. From 1979 to 1983, the percentageof all samplestested that were mislabeled was decreasing;however, the percentagehas been going up since 1984. According to an MVMA official, the number of gasoline sam- ples taken in each survey is small-about 600 per survey-thus, the results give an indication of gasoline quality and octane ratings but are not projectable nationwide. ‘These were mislabeled by six-tenths of one point or more below the posted rating. We applied a six- tenths octane point mislabeling criteria to determine the number of violations based on tolerance levels used by some testing states and the American Society of Testing and Materials in their proce- dures for testing octane. Page 15 GAO/RCED-90450 Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling Chapter 2 Mislabeling Occurs but Extent Is Unknown The major domestic automobile manufacturers use MAMAsurveys to track the quality of gasoline available to consumers.Engineers at the General Motors ResearchLaboratories told us that MVMA surveys are a generally accurate indicator of nationwide trends in gasoline quality, including octane ratings. We obtained information from both testing and non-testing states on State Mislabeling gasoline mislabeling. Testing states report that generally little mislabel- Information ing is occurring. Officials from the sevennon-testing states we visited, however, believe that mislabeling is a problem in their states. This was supported by the results of recent one-time octane tests conducted in four of these states. In two of the states, the testing was conducted for us by EPAand state officials primarily in two cities. These tests revealed that mislabeling was occurring. Officials from both testing and non-test- ing states agree that testing octane ratings to ensure that posted ratings are accurate is an effective deterrent to mislabeling. Testing States Generally We obtained octane testing results from 11 states that routinely test gas- Report Little Mislabeling oline octane ratings. We visited seven of these states to obtain the data with the remaining four states reporting their results to us. As shown in table 2.1, seven of the states found that less than 2 percent of the sam- ples tested were mislabeled from 1986 to 1988. The far right column of the table shows the criteria used by these states for determining when gasoline is mislabeled. The samples mislabeled, as indicated in the table, are all instances where the actual octane was below the posted rating. State officials told us that almost all violations found are under rather than over the posted octane. Page 16 GAO/WED-90-50 Gasoline Marketing: Octane hbeliug Chapter 2 Mislabeling Occurs but Extent Ia Unknown Table 2.1: Mlrlabeling in 11 States That Tolit Octane Ratlngr for the Years 1985- Total Samples Percent Mislabeling 88 State samples mislabeled mislabeled criteria* Arkansas 6,171 248 4.0 1 .o California 10,983 651 5.9 0.6 - 0.7b Florida 217,512 305 0.1 1 .o GeorgiaC 13,219 253 1.9 0.5 Louisianad 22,829 1,782 7.8 0.5 Maryland 56,421 564 1 .o 0.6 - 0.7b North Carolina 66,332 1.116 1.7 0.6 - 0.7b North Dakota 2,871 88 3.1 0.7 Oklahoma 18,063 326 1.8 0.0 South Carolina 8,091 113 1.4 0.5 Virainia 16,844 151 0.9 1 .o ?f posted ratings exceed actual ratings by this amount or more, a violation has occurred. In the case of Oklahoma, any variance is a violation. bRange varies depending on octane level. ‘Information for Georgia was available only for 1986-87 din Louisiana, the percent of samples mislabeled declined steadily between 1985 and 1987, from a high of 9.8 percent in 1985 to a low of 4.2 percent in 1987. According to California officials, their state reports a high percentageof samples mislabeled becausea substantial number of California’s sam- ples are taken from retail stations suspectedof mislabeling or taken to confirm that previous sampleswere mislabeled, rather than randomly. California officials cited random surveys conducted in each county every 6 years as better overall measuresof mislabeling in the state; less than 3 percent of gasoline samplesin recent county surveys were misla- beled. Arkansas officials did not explain why the percentage of samples mislabeled was higher than other states but reported that it had varied between 1 and 6 percent since 1980. Tests Conducted in Four One-time tests of gasoline octane ratings conducted in four states with- States Without Testing out testing programs included in our review showed frequent octane mislabeling. Two of these states, Oregonand Tennessee,conducted their Programs Indicate own tests, and two other states, Michigan and Missouri, helped EPAtest Mislabeling Is a Problem gasoline samples for our review primarily in one city in each state. The Oregon and Tennesseetests were conducted in 1987 and 1988, Y respectively, becauseofficials from these states were concernedabout Page 17 GAO/RCEBBO-50Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling chapter2 &fMhUng Occurs but Extent L Unknown mislabeling in their states. The tests were conducted primarily on a ran- dom basis; however, Oregon also focused on someretail stations sus- pected of mislabeling gasoline. Table 2.2 shows the results of the tests conducted in these two states. Table 2.2: Oregon and Tonnesroe Octane Test Results Total Samples Percent Mlslabelinq State samples mislabeled mislabeled criteria Oregon 110 24 21.8 0.6 Tennessee 81 18 22.2 006 aWe applied a six-tenths octane point mislabeling criteria to determine the number of violations based on tolerance levels used by some testing states and the American Society of Testing and Materials in their procedures for testing octane. If posted ratings exceeded actual ratings by this amount or more, a violation occurred. In Oregonthe average difference between the actual and posted octane ratings for the 24 mislabeled samples was 1.6 octane numbers; this is equivalent to selling 87-octaneregular unleaded gasoline as 89-octane midgrade unleaded gasoline. The largest difference between the actual and posted octane rating was 4.0 octane numbers; this is equivalent to selling 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline as 91-octanepremium unleaded gasoline. In Tennesseethe average difference between the actual and posted octane ratings for the 18 mislabeled samples was 1.9 octane numbers. The largest difference between the actual and posted octane rating was 6.9 octane numbers. During our review, officials from Michigan and Missouri expressedcon- cerns about octane mislabeling in their states. At our request, EPA arranged for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Standards Division to test the octane ratings of 66 gasoline samples collected by state officials from retail stations primarily in the Detroit and St. Louis areas. State officials collected the samples from retail stations suspected of selling mislabeled gasoline, based on consumer complaints and the observations of state inspectors. Missouri officials collected 38 samples between December1988 and April 1989; Michigan officials collected 27 samples between February and April 1989. Table 2.3 shows the results of the tests conducted in these two states. Page 18 GAO/RCED-90-M)Gasoline Marketing Octane Labeling chapter 2 &Wabeling Occurabut Extent Ia Uuknowu Table 2.3: Mlchlgan and Mlrsourl Octane Test Result0 Total Samples Percent Mislabeling State samples mislabeled mislabeled criteria’ Michigan 27 14 51.9 0.6 Missouri 38 20 52.6 0.6 BWe applied a six-tenths octane point mislabeling criteria to determine the number of violations based on tolerance levels used by some testing states and the American Society of Testing and Materials in their procedures for testing octane. If posted ratings exceeded actual ratings by this amount or more, a violation occurred. In Michigan the average difference between the actual and posted octane rating for 13 of the 14 mislabeled sampleswas 2.3 octane num- bers with the largest difference being 6.6 octane numbers. The remain- ing mislabeled sample had an actual octane rating 11.8 octane numbers below the posted rating. According to state officials, this gasoline proba- bly was contaminated. In Missouri, the average difference between the actual and posted octane rating for the 20 mislabeled samples was 2.2 octane numbers with the largest difference being 4.6 octane numbers. At the end of our review, Michigan and Missouri officials were planning to take actions against the more serious violators. State, Industry, and Officials from the seven states visited that test gasoline octane ratings, Consumer Group Officials as well as officials from the industry and consumer groups, attribute the low number of samplesmislabeled in these states to their gasoline qual- Attribute Mislabeling to ity testing programs, which include testing octane ratings to ensure that the Lack of Octane Testing they are posted accurately. They believe that testing octane ratings has improved the integrity of the gasoline distribution system in these states and that as a result of these state programs, consumersbuying gasoline in those states are more likely to receive the octane that they pay for. According to these officials, highly visible and frequent octane testing, combined with strict penalties, decreasesoctane mislabeling and cheat- ing, Such testing increasesthe risk of violators getting caught selling mislabeled gasoline and thus of facing stiff penalties and negative pub- licity. As a result, distributors and retail stations are encouragedto pay more attention to quality control procedures, and potential cheaters are discouraged. Such a deterrent effect was evident in two states where mislabeling declined significantly after they began testing octane ratings to ensure that posted ratings were accurate. Information obtained from Arkansas, which began testing octane ratings in 1976, shows that the percent of samplesmislabeled fell from 24 percent in 1976 to 2 percent by 1979 Page 19 GAO/RCED-9060Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling Chapter 2 MWabeLiq Ckcum but Extent Is Unknown and has varied between 6 percent and 1 percent since. Similar informa- tion obtained from Maryland, which also began testing octane ratings in 1976, shows that the percent of samplesmislabeled fell from about 10 percent in 1976 to about 1 percent by 1980 and has remained at that lower level since, according to state officials. Basedon information and comments obtained from industry officials, it Sourcesof Mislabeling appears that there is more potential for octane mislabeling at the lower in the Distribution levels in the distribution system, such as distributors and retail stations System rather than at refineries, common carrier pipelines, or bulk terminals, where gasoline octane ratings are tested frequently. Large refiners and common carrier pipelines have extensive quality control programs that include testing octane ratings; however, these programs focus on refin- eries, pipelines, and bulk terminals, not distributors and retail stations. Officials from the sevenstates visited that test octane ratings all agree that they have found little mislabeling above the wholesale distributors and retail levels of the distribution system. Octane Ratings Can The domestic gasoline distribution system for moving gasoline to the Change Along the Gasoline consumer can be divided into three broad levels: refining (manufactur- ing), wholesale (distributors), and retail. Figure 2.1 is a simplified dia- Distribution System gram of the domestic gasoline distribution system showing the flow of gasoline through these three levels. Page 20 GAO/RCED-90-50Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling chapter 2 Mid&eling Occur@but Extent IB Unhewn Figure 2.1: Domrotlc Qaooline Di8tributlon Syrtem Refinery Domestic Crude Barge Pipeline Tanker I r3 Bulk Terminal Truck -----m---e--------- --------------e----m u AOtell !I -. Service Station :_ Consumer Y Page 21 GAO/RCED-90450 Gasoline Marketin@ Octane Labeling Chapter 2 Mislabellug Ckcuro but Extent In Unknown According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), over 100 domestic gasoline refiners supply the domestic gasoline market, with the 10 larg- est refiners accounting for over 60 percent of the nation’s total gasoline production. Most gasoline is transported from refineries to bulk termi- nals by common carrier pipeline (60 percent) and barge or ship (30 per- cent). A small amount (10 percent) is transported by railroad car or tanker (truck). At the wholesale level, over 11,000 gasoline wholesalers distribute gasoline from bulk terminals to other terminals and retail sta- tions. At the lowest level of the distribution system, there are about 166,000 gasoline retail stations, including traditional full-service sta- tions, self-serve and “super” (volume) stations, and conveniencestores. There are a number of points along the gasoline distribution system where gasoline octane ratings are changed: l Refiners raise the octane rating of gasoline by more intensively refining the crude oil to increase its hydrocarbon content; by adding certain met- als (such as lead);2by blending it with ethanol, methanol, or methyl ter- tiary butyl ether; or by somecombination of the previous three methods. l Below the refineries, wholesalers changethe octane rating of gasoline by blending it with higher or lower octane gasolinesor with ethanol, methanol, or methyl tertiary butyl ether. . Someretail stations are equipped with special gasoline pumps that blend two grades of gasoline into a variety of intermediate grades. Unintended changesin gasoline octane ratings can also occur. For exam- ple, pipelines can accidentally mix shipments with different octane rat- ings, or trucks can pick up the wrong loads or deliver them to the wrong storage tanks at retail stations. Such events can lead to octane mislabel- ing. If the mislabeling occurs intentionally, it is known as octane cheat- ing. Intentional mislabeling, or octane cheating, may take place because the incentive to mislabel gasoline octane ratings is great. For example, the difference in gasoline prices at the wholesale level of the distribu- tion system between regular and premium unleaded is about 13 cents per gallon, while at the retail level the difference may be up to 20 cents per gallon. ‘To protect people’s health and the environment, the federal government prohibits or severely restricts the use of these metals to enhance octane. Page 22 GAO/RCED-SO-50 Gasoline Markethgz Octane Labeling Ckaptar 2 MMabeUng Occurs but Extent Ie Unknown Octane Testing in the Octanetesting of gasoline is part of an overall quality assurancepro- Distribution System gram employed by the petroleum industry to ensure the integrity of gas- oline supplies. According to petroleum industry officials, quality control procedures exist throughout the distribution system, but they cover the refiners, pipelines and large bulk terminals more extensively than dis- tributors and retail stations. According to API, the 20 largest gasoline refiners, which have the capacity to refine over 76 percent of all gaso- line sold in the United States and Puerto Rico, have extensive quality control programs that include testing octane ratings. Other refiners also have similar programs. Officials from the nine refiners we visited informed us that they test octane ratings extensively during and after refining-during refining to ensure correct octane ratings are achieved and after refining to ensure correct ratings are maintained as the gaso- line moves through the distribution system. Our visits to refineries and bulk terminals revealed extensive octane testing at these locations with controls built into the quality control system to ensure accuracy.3 According to industry officials, it is very important to the large refiners to test octane ratings at bulk and other terminals to ensure that gasoline received from other refiners and pipelines was not altered during ship- ment. This is becauserefiners make extensive use of “product exchange agreements” to trade gasoline supplies with each other. Moreover, an increasingly large percentageof gasoline is “fungible’‘-refined to meet generic industry specifications so it can be exchanged.Such gasoline is then customized by adding proprietary additives-like detergents that clean engine parts -when the gasoline is loaded into tankers for trans- portation to retail stations. According to API officials, over 50 percent of all pipeline gasoline shipments are fungible. According to industry and state officials, refiners use product exchangeagreementsand fungible gasoline to minimize their transportation costs and increase their supply flexibility throughout the distribution system. Becauseof the large quantities of gasoline involved, these features of the distribution system give refiners a great incentive to test. Also according to API,large common carrier pipeline companieshave extensive quality control programs as well, including octane testing, to ensure that the ratings certified by shippers are accurate and to protect the pipeline companiesfrom accusationsthat they altered the quality of the gasoline during shipment. About 60 percent of all gasoline is trans- ported by pipeline at somepoint along the distribution system. Officials ?ndustry officials were willing to show us their quality control systems but because the data was considered proprietary, they were not willing to provide data for us to analyze. Page 23 GAO/RCED-90-60Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling c Cimptm 2 1)HslabeIingOccurs but Extent Ia Unknown from three large common carrier pipelines told us that their companies have extensive quality control programs including octane testing. Offi- cials at the largest of these pipeline companiessaid the company tests samples from 30 to 60 percent of all gasoline shipments transported through its pipeline facilities. Laboratory reports obtained from this company showed that it was conducting an averageof 66 octane tests per monthB4 According to industry and state officials, there is less testing of octane ratings after gasoline leaves bulk terminals. Officials we spoke to at refineries and bulk terminals said that they have little control over the gasoline after it leavesthe terminal, other than limited testing at retail stations by large refiners. Officials from testing and non-testing states also agreethat mislabeling is more likely to occur at the wholesale or retail levels of the distribution system, and officials from testing states point out that the results of their octane tests support this position- they have found very little, if any, mislabeling at bulk terminals. State and industry officials noted that quality control procedures are gener- ally more lax at the lower levels of the distribution system and that many large-volume retail stations or conveniencestores have part-time or inexperienced personnel. In some areas, deliveries of gasoline are commonly made when the retail station is closed for businessand there are no station personnel present, according to state and industry offi- cials. Wholesalers and retail gasoline station associationswe spoke to generally did not believe octane mislabeling was a problem but agreed that there are less controls in place to detect octane mislabeling below the refiners and bulk terminals. Several large refiners we talked to test or hire a private laboratory to test octane ratings at company owned and operated retail stations and at retail stations using their brand names. However, the number of tests is relatively small6 Moreover, officials of the large refiners state that they generally have limited control over the independently owned and operated retail stations using their brand names,which represent about 60 percent of all retail stations. One gasoline retail association we con- tacted agreed with this statement and pointed out that many indepen- dently owned and operated retail stations cannot afford to test for octane, which costs about $100 per sample. 4Seefootnote 3. “See footnote 3. Page 24 GAO/RCED-90-60Gasoline Marketing Octane Labeling Chapter 2 Mislabeling Occurs but Extent Ia Unknown , Observed Instances of Officials in sevennon-testing states visited during our review believe Octane Cheating octane cheating is a problem. They basedtheir belief on observed or sus- pected instances of cheating. All sevenof these states have weights and measuresprograms where state inspectors visit distributors and retail stations to check gasoline pump accuracy. In two of these states, inspec- tors also collect gasoline samples at retail stations to be tested for ingre- dients or characteristics, such as vapor pressure or the presenceof metals (e.g., lead), but not octane ratings. State officials informed us that state inspectors had observedpractices during their visits to dis- tributors or retail stations that indicated cheating was occurring at some of these locations. Onepractice observed in several states by state inspectors at someretail stations was the sale of gasoline from pumps posted with different octane ratings, but which were supplied by the samestorage tank. State officials said that at least one of the posted octane ratings had to be wrong. Another practice observed in several states was the sale of 87- octane unleaded gasoline as 89-octaneleaded gasoline. According to state officials, this occurs becausethe wholesale price of 87-octane unleaded gasoline is less than the wholesale price of 89-octaneleaded gasoline. While state officials discussedthese observations with us, they were anecdotal in nature and we were not provided documentation sup- porting them. When consumersbuy gasoline with an octane rating lower than the rat- Impact of Mislabeling ing posted on the pump, they are paying for octane they do not receive. on Consumers How much they pay for these misrepresented octanes dependson a number of factors, including the variance or degreeof mislabeling and the cost differential between gasoline grades.Our analysis shows that even a small amount of mislabeling can result in consumerspaying a significant amount for octane they do not receive. For example, assum- ing that 9 percent of gasoline sold is mislabeled by only one-half octane number and that each octane number represents 3 cents, consumersin 1988 could have paid about $160 million for octane they did not receive, basedon 1988 gasoline sales. Octanemislabeling is occurring; however, only limited information is Conclusions available on the extent of mislabeling on a nationwide basis. An analysis Y of the latest available octane data collected by MVMA indicated an aver- age mislabeling of 9 percent. Also, one-time tests in four states without testing programs revealed frequent octane mislabeling. Information Page 26 GAO/RCED-SO-50 Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labellug Chapter 2 Mislabeling Occurabut Extmt Ie Unknown from states that have implemented octane testing programs, however, indicates that mislabeling was less than 2 percent in the majority of these states and suggeststhat such programs can reduce the occurrences of octane mislabeling. While mislabeling may occur at any place in the gasoline distribution system, there is more potential for it to occur at the lower levels of the system, such as at distributors or retail stations, than at refineries, pipelines, or bulk terminals, becausethese latter locations are covered by extensive quality control programs that include frequent testing of octane ratings. Page 26 GAO/RCED-90-50Gamline Marketingz Octane Labeling FTC and EPA Have Not Effectively Implementedthe Petroleum Marketing PracticesAct FTC and EPAhave not carried out their gasoline octane testing and enforcement responsibilities under PMPAto ensure that the octane rat- ings posted on gasoline pumps are accurate. Thus, there are no federal controls in place to ensure the accuracy of octane ratings. Moreover, although not explicitly stated in its regulations, FTChas taken the posi- tion that PMPA'Soctane certification and posting requirements only apply to gasoline and not to the more recent gasoline-alcoholblend fuels that are being used to reduce automotive air pollution. Also, states are con- cerned that PMPAmay interfere with their efforts to ensure that posted octane ratings are accurate becausethey believe it limits the remedies and penalties they may take against violators. Given the current federal budgetary constraints, it may be difficult for FTC and EPAto increase their efforts in enforcing PMPA.There may be options, however, for redefining federal responsibilities for implement- ing PMPArequirements, which would involve the states in a joint federal- state program, or perhaps a total state enforcement program is possible. PMPArequired FTCto set and define gasoline certification and octane PMPA Not Fully posting requirements and directed EPAto (1) inspect retail stations Implemented nationwide to ensure that they were complying with the octane posting requirements and (2) test gasoline octane ratings at retail stations to ensure that the posted ratings were accurate. EPAwas further directed to report the test results to FTC.In caseswhere violations were identi- fied, PMPAauthorized F”E to prosecute and seek civil penalties against violators in Federal District Court. While octane ratings are being posted on pumps at retail stations, there are no federal controls in place to ensure the accuracy of octane ratings becauseEPAstopped testing the accuracy of octane ratings at the end of 1981 and FTChas not prosecuted any octane violations. Octane Posting Regulations In 1979, as required by PMPA,FTCissued the OctaneCertification and Posting Rule to establish standard procedures for determining, certify- ing, and posting the octane ratings of automotive gasoline. PMPArequires refiners to determine and certify octane ratings to their customers and requires anyone who receives and distributes gasoline to another party (i.e. pipeline companies)other than the ultimate purchaser to certify the octane rating of such gasoline to its customers. Petroleum industry officials, including nine refiners and three pipeline companies,advised us that they comply with PMPAoctane certification Page 27 GAO/RCED-90-50Gasoline Marketing Octane Labeling Chapter 3 FTC and EPA Have Not Effectively Implemented the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act requirements at every level of the distribution system. During our visits in 10 states to the nine refineries, three pipeline companies,various ter- minals, and four distributors, we discussedcompany certification proce- dures and reviewed documents, such as gasoline shipment invoices for evidence of octane certifications, and confirmed that with one excep- tion, these facilities and their parent companieswere complying with these requirements. We did not, however, validate the accuracy of the octane certifications. The exception involved a small independent dis- tributor in Missouri. The owner said that he was unaware of PMPA’S octane certification requirements and promised to comply as soon as possible by printing the octane ratings of the gasolineshe sold on his customers’ invoices. We advised FTCofficials of the facts surrounding this caseduring our field work and they agreedto follow up to ensure that the owner was fully informed of PMPA’Srequirements. An FI%offi- cial advised us that they sent a letter to the distributor in August 1989 along with a copy of FTC’Soctane certification and labeling rules. Since 1979, during visits to retail stations in conjunction with its nation- wide lead testing program, EPAhas ensured that retail stations posted octane ratings on their gasoline pumps. EPAofficials report that retail stations generally post octane ratings on their pumps, as required by PMPA,but occasionally they find stations without posted ratings. These are subsequently reported to FTC. FTCofficials told us that they send out letters to these stations telling them to comply with PMPA’Sposting requirement. Somestates, such as Washington, enforce PMPAposting requirements in conjunction with their weights and measuresprograms. EPA Stopped Testing In 1980 and 1981 EPAtested gasoline octane at retail stations. According Octane Ratings After 1981 to EPAofficials, EPAdiscontinued testing after fiscal year 1981 because of staffing and budget cuts and also becauseEPAconsidered it to be a low priority, given the Agency’s other enforcement programs. EPAoffi- cials noted that the Congresshad not provided any funds to test octane ratings, which cost about $100 per test. However, EPAdid not inform the Congressof any inability to execute the program without additional funds. EPAofficials also said that FTChad not used the 1980-81test results to prosecute octane violators and that they could seefew bene- fits from spending additional public funds to test if FTCwas not going to take action. Page 28 GAO/RCED-SO-60 Gasoline Marketingz Octane hbeling chaptm 3 FIG and EPA Have Not Eiiectively Implementad the Petroleum Markethg Practlce~ Act Up to now this conflict has causedfew problems, since most states have not considered the effects of PMPA'Spreemption clause.However, in early 1988 California officials dropped criminal chargesbrought against a large distributor for octane mislabeling, becausein the San Diego City Attorney’s opinion, PMPApreempted the state law and precluded action by the state. In this case,the state law was much stricter than PMPAin that it included criminal prosecution and up to 6 months in jail and a $1 million fine. California officials believe that such substantial penalties are sometimesnecessaryto deal with large distributors engagedin octane mislabeling at a number of retail stations (as was alleged in this case)since the profits from mislabeling can be large. In this case,the distributor had already paid more than $160,000 in civil fines during a 1 year period. In other cases,somestate officials contend that the formal court proce- dures required in bringing a civil action are too cumbersome.State offi- cials told us that the time required to prepare and bring a caseto court under current civil enforcement procedures results in an extensive period of time before corrective action can be taken. On the other hand, they believe that their state enforcement actions can be more effective becausethey are immediate and thus result in greater compliance with the goals of PMPA.In this regard, we noted that FIX’Sfirst formal investi- gation of octane mislabeling has been on-going since 1987 and still has not been settled or brought to trial. FE officials agreed with these state arguments and stated that the states’ concern over PMPApreempting their own state enforcement actions hinders FTC’Sefforts to encouragestates to test and enforce octane posting. They noted that the preemption issue was not a practical problem for most states becauseit seldom has been raised as a defense by violators; however, it is a legal problem that has yet to be settled in court, FM=officials support an amendment to PMPAthat would allow states to employ a broader range of enforcement options, including immediate stop sale orders or criminal prosecution, yet preserve PMPA'S uniform nationwide posting and certification requirements. BTCand EPAofficials advised us that testing octane ratings to ensure that Options to Implement posted ratings are accurate is not possible without additional funds. Monitoring and However, neither FE or EPAhad an estimate of how much it would cost Enforcement ’ to test octane ratings nationwide to ensure that they are accurate and to prosecute violators. In 1978, the CongressionalBudget Office estimated that establishing a nationwide federal octane testing program would Page 31 GAO/RCEDBO-50Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling Chapter 3 FI’C and EPA Have Not Effectively Implemented the Petroleum Marketing PracticesAct cost $1.1 million in 1979 and between $2.1 and $2.4 million a year in the 1980-1983time frame. EPAofficials did not know how much it would cost to establish an octane testing program today but stated that it would be much higher today than the earlier estimates. Ensuring the accuracy of posted octane ratings, however, need not be entirely a federal effort. While FTC and EPAare faced with budgetary constraints in implementing PMPAoctane testing requirements, a number of states have taken action to implement their own testing programs. In view of this, there may be options worth exploring involving both fed- eral and state efforts, which would provide greater assurancethat the objectives of PMPAare met. We did not evaluate the effectiveness or cost of such options; however, we did obtain information on them from fed- eral, state, industry, and consumer group officials. Officials we talked to from all of the testing and non-testing states we visited were generally in favor of state testing and enforcement. Accord- ing to officials from the testing states, ensuring that octane ratings are posted accurately and that mislabeling is prosecuted is primarily a local responsibility and more effectively dealt with at the state-not national-level. However, one official added that he would favor a fed- eral role for casesinvolving interstate issues,for example, a distributor in one state supplying retail stations in another state. Several state offi- cials were against the federal government mandating state octane test- ing without providing funding for that testing. Officials from two states in favor of state testing said that the biggest obstacle to state octane testing was the cost of constructing and equip- ping a testing laboratory-about $1.6 million according to estimates pre- pared by Tennesseeofficials. The cost of collecting gasoline samples for testing would probably be less of an obstacle,becausemost states have a weights and measuresprogram where inspectors visit retail stations at least once a year to check pump calibration. Officials from testing and non-testing states believe that testing octane ratings to ensure that posted ratings are accurate would be cost-effective. They said that it savesconsumersmore money than the testing costs-even though, as noted previously, constructing and equipping a testing laboratory is expensive. Officials in two states specifically suggestedthat the federal govern- ment might consider encouraging the non-testing states to test octane ratings by sharing this cost. One state official said that in the long run Page 32 GAO/RCED-90-50Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling I Ckapter 3 FTC and EPA Have Not Effectively Implemented the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act Fi’C Has Never Prosecuted FTChas never prosecuted an octane violation, even in 1980-1981,when an Octane Violation it had octane test results from EPA.FTCofficials cited staff shortages and budget cuts as reasonsfor its lack of action. They noted that between 1980 and 1988, FX’S staff was cut by about 44 percent as part of the federal government’s deregulation efforts. FM=officials also noted that the Congressdid not provide additional funds to FTCto enforce PMPA, however, as with EPA,FTChas not advised the Congressof their inability to carry out the program without additional funding. Currently, FTCis taking some actions in responseto complaints and other information received from outside sources.For example, since 1987 FE’S Dallas Regional Office has been investigating a caseof sus- pected octane mislabeling brought to its attention by an outside party, which it intends to settle or bring to trial. Partly as a result of this case and complaints from state enforcement officials, informants, consumers and consumer groups, FTCofficials told us that they would like to assumea more active role in enforcing PMPA'Soctane certification and posting requirements. However, FTCofficials noted that future efforts will be hindered becauseEPAhas stopped testing octane ratings and FTC has limited funds for its enforcement activities. In a 1979 letter to the state of Nebraska, FTCexpressedthe opinion that Posting Requirement gasohol, which is a blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol, Only Covers Gasoline was exempt from PMPAoctane posting and certification requirements becausethe statutory definition of gasoline did not include such fuels. According to this letter: “No mention of composite fuels such as gasohol is found in either the statute or its legislative history. This indicates to us that Congressdid not contemplate coverage of gasohol by either PMPAor the Commission’s Rule.” FTC officialsadvised us that staff opinions were not binding unless they are adopted by the Commission and that this staff opinion has not been so adopted. Nevertheless, according to FTCofficials, as a result of this opinion gasohol and other gasoline-alcoholblends are viewed as exempt from PMPAoctane certification and posting requirements. M‘Chas not issued similar staff opinions on other gasoline-alcoholblends or other alternative fuels; however, FTCofficials told us that they also would be exempt following the samerationale used in the 1979 letter. Currently, as a result of this opinion, octane ratings are not required to be posted for gasoline-alcoholblends. However, octane ratings are Page 29 GAO/RCEDBO-50Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling . Chapter 3 Fl’C and EPA Have Not Effectively Implemented the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act posted for these fuels in somestates becausethey have their own laws requiring such postings. The areas affected by this opinion may grow as more urban areas require the use of gasoline-alcoholblends and other alternative fuels to fight air pollution. In August 1989, the close of our review, FTCofficials advised us that they are reconsidering the rationale behind the 1979 opinion with a view toward making gasoline-alcoholblends and other composite fuels subject to PMPA.FTCofficials stated that the opinion expressedin the 1979 letter was appropriate at the time becausegasohol and other com- posite fuels were viewed as alternatives to gasoline. However, market conditions have changed, and I?K officials now view these fuels as gaso- line containing an octane-enhancingadditive (in this case,alcohol). FTC officials believe that consumer perceptions of these fuels have changed similarly and that PMPArequirements should apply to these fuels, although they noted that the courts might interpret PMPAmore narrowly as FTCdid in 1979. However, FIX officials doubt that PMPAcould be interpreted broadly enough to cover all alternative fuels for spark ignition engines,such as pure methanol, that may be used in the future. For example, the Presi- dent’s recently announcedplan for amending the Clean Air Act could lead to the use of such fuels in at least nine major U.S. cities by 1995. FTCofficials stated that there is a need to amend PMPAto clarify and expand the definition of gasoline to include all fuels used in spark igni- tion engines,such as any new alternative fuel that may becomeavaila- ble to reduce air pollution, PMPAauthorizes the FTCto seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each PMPA May Interfere mislabeling violation. Section 204 of PMPAsets forth its relationship to With State state laws and provides that state laws (including remedies or penalties) Enforcement Efforts dealing with any act or omission covered by PMPAare to be the same as the applicable provisions of PMPA.State officials are concernedabout this apparent preemption of someexisting state enforcement provisions. Officials from states that test octane ratings believe that prosecuting octane labeling violators may becomea problem if their laws are pre- empted by PMPAand they cannot use more effective measuresthan civil penalties to prosecute violators and correct problems. For example, the seven states we visited that test octane use administrative stop sale orders to immediately halt the sale of mislabeled gasoline. PMPAwould seemto preempt this option. Page 30 GAO/RCED-90-60Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling . Chapter 3 FTC and EPAHave Not J.Wectively Implemented the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act the cost to the federal government of sharing the expenseof construct- ing and equipping state laboratories would be less than the cost of estab- lishing and maintaining a nationwide federal octane testing program. Another argument for involving the states in implementing and enforc- ing PMPAis that 20 states are already performing octane tests and more are planning or considering octane testing programs. Both Michigan and Missouri plan to begin testing gasoline octane ratings as soon as they complete construction of new testing laboratories. Moreover, both the Tennesseeand Washington legislatures were considering such testing at the time of our review. Officials from three consumer groups believe that federal or state test- ing is acceptable;however, these officials feel that the federal govern- ment should set national posting requirements. They noted that federal posting requirements have significant advantagesfor consumers,includ- ing uniformity. If posting were left up to the individual states, labels might vary between states, creating confusion for consumers.Moreover, somestates might not require any posting or testing, leaving consumers without critical information about gasoline quality. were accurate. This assurance,however, is not being provided because there are no federal controls in place to monitor the accuracy of octane postings. EPAand FTChave not taken the steps required by PMPAto test octane ratings and take actions against violators, primarily becauseof funding limitations. Furthermore, there is (1) confusion as to whether newer gasoline-alcohol blended fuels- or future fuels that may become available to abate vehicle pollution-are subject to PMPA’Soctane post- ing requirements and (2) concern in the states that PMPAprovisions may limit state enforcement efforts. We believe there needsto be assurancethat consumersare getting the octane they pay for. We also believe that in addition to a total federally administered PMPA,there are options for including the states in the pro- gram in a way likely to result in greater assurancesthat PMPA’Sobjec- tives are achieved. Such options need to be explored, and in doing so a number of factors such as the cost, staff requirements, range of enforce- ment actions, and the risk to consumersneed to be considered.Neces- sary control measuresneededto ensure program successalso should be an intregal part of each option considered. Page 33 GAO/RCED-9@60Gasoline Marketing: Octane Labeling c Chapter 3 FTC end EPA Have Not Effectively Implemented the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act We recommendthat the Congressamend PMPAto Recommendationsto the Congress . include octane certification and posting for gasoline-alcoholblends and other alternative motor fuels that may becomeavailable to reduce air pollution and l make it clear that states may employ a range of remedies broader than those available under PMPAto enforce octane posting requirements. Recommendationsto We also recommendthat the Chairman, FTC,and the Administrator, EPA, in consultation with the appropriate congressionalcommittees and the the Federal Trade states take the following actions: Commission and the Develop and assessthe options that could be employed to monitor com- Environmental l pliance with the act’s octane certification and posting requirements. Protection Agency Such options should include a total federal role, joint federal-state roles, and a total state role in implementing PMPA'Srequirements. This analysis should include, among other things, the benefits and costs of the various options, including necessarycontrol measures,as well as milestones for their implementation. . Report the results of their evaluations and their recommendations,along with funding requirements and recommendations for any neededlegisla- tive changes,to the Congress. Page34 GAO/RCED-!KMiO GasolineMarketing: Octane Labeling Page 36 GAO/WED-90-50 Gasoline Marketing Octane Labeling Appendix I , Major Contributors to This Report Flora H. Milans, Associate Director Resources, JamesA. Fowler, Assistant Director Community, and Barry R. Kime, Assignment Manager Economic Development Division, Washington, D.C. Michael D. Rohrback, Evaluator-In-Charge Detroit Re@onal Office Audley M. Smith Jr Evaluator Michael J. Jones,‘Ev’&uator RebeccaL. Thompson, Evaluator Y Page 36 GAO/RCED-30-60Gasoline Markethgz Octane Labeling Page 37 GAO/RCED-!I040Gasoline Marketing; Octane Labeling Page33 GAO/RCE?D-9040 GasolineMaretine; OctaneLabeling Y Page39 GAO/RCRD9O-IO GasolineMarketing:OctaneLabeling Related GAO Products Gasoline Marketing: States’ Programs for Gasoline OctaneTesting (GAO/ RCEDm-91Fs, April 12, 1989). Gasoline Marketing: States’ Programs for Pump Labeling of Gasoline Ingredients (GAO/RCED-89-6, January 12, 1989). Gasoline Marketing: Octane Mislabeling in New York City (GAO/ RCED87-180BR, August 18, 1987). (808796) Page40 GAO/WED-90-80 GasolineMarketin#$Octanebbeiine ‘I‘tlt~ l’irst. I’ivth twpit~s Ol’twch rt~porl. itlXh f’rw. Atltlit.ionat cwpit~s at-t’ !+%.OO W<'lI. ‘I’lit*rt~ is ;I :!5”,, tlistwri~~t 011 0rtltLrs for IO0 or mow twpit~s rrl;rilwl t,o 21 siriglt~ iltltlrthss.
Gasoline Marketing: Consumers Have Limited Assurance That Octane Ratings Are Accurate
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-04-16.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)