Nationwide Survey of Gasoline Distributors...

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A nationwide survey has shown that gasoline distributors are accurately certifying gasoline octane ratings and keeping required records, the Federal Trade Commission announced today. The survey, which began in 1991, focused on gasoline distributors in states that have no octane-testing program and in states that had expressed concern about possible octane mislabeling problems. While indicating generally high overall compliance with the FTC's Fuel Rating Rule (formerly, the Octane Rule), the FTC investigation did lead to three law enforcement actions, and the FTC obtained a total of $82,500 in civil penalties in those cases.

The FTC's Fuel Rating Rule implements the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA), which requires that the octane rating of automotive gasoline (or similar rating for other liquid automotive fuels) be determined at the refiner and then certified through the various levels of distribution to the retail station, where the rating must be posted on the pump. The rule contains standard requirements for determining, certifying and posting the ratings of automotive fuels intended for sale to consumers. Under the rule's recordkeeping requirements, gasoline refiners must retain fuel-rating test records for one year, and distributors and retailers must retain fuel-rating certification records for one year.

The survey is but one of a number of tools the Commission has used to foster compliance with the Fuel Rating Rule. In particular, the Commission has assisted states in enforcing or developing octane labeling requirements. State involvement is particularly important in this area because of the large number of gasoline retailers and distributors and the fact that octane mislabeling occurs primarily at the local level. The Commission's liaison activities with interested states have included providing technical assistance to those states that wanted to conduct random octane testing, referring intrastate violations to state officials, and conducting joint investigations where appropriate. The Commission also has conducted educational activities to foster compliance, including the preparation of a Business Guide to the Fuel Rating Rule that has been widely distributed through industry trade associations.

Further, during the survey period, in accordance with a Commission recommendation, Congress amended the PMPA to authorize the states to use whatever investigative and enforcement actions are necessary to enforce state laws pertinent to fuel ratings.

The states with active octane testing programs are particularly effective at detecting and prosecuting octane mislabeling, according to the Commission. While many states now have octane testing programs that successfully catch octane cheating, as well as other gasoline quality problems, FTC staff will continue to provide assistance, especially to states without programs. Until all states adopt fuel quality laws and testing programs, cooperative Federal-state actions and education efforts will continue to be necessary, the FTC noted.

The Commission vote to end the nationwide survey of gasoline distributors and retailers was 4-0, with Chairman Robert Pitofsky not participating.

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