Fighting bad fuel: Lawmakers want to test fuel quality after incidents hit drivers

Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., speaks on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, about a bill that would allow county auditors to test for fuel quality she and Ohio Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, introduced in the Ohio House earlier this month. Ohio is one of three states that do not test for fuel quality. Also pictured are Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, left, and Ross Twp. Trustee Tom Willsey. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
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Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., speaks on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, about a bill that would allow county auditors to test for fuel quality she and Ohio Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, introduced in the Ohio House earlier this month. Ohio is one of three states that do not test for fuel quality. Also pictured are Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, left, and Ross Twp. Trustee Tom Willsey. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

A pair of Southwest Ohio lawmakers want to allow county auditors to test for fuel quality, not just quantity.

Ohio Reps. Brigid Kelly, D-Cincinnati, and George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., introduced House Bill 499 this month to establish an opt-in fuel quality testing program for Ohio’s county auditors. Ohio is one of just three states — Alaska and Nebraska are the others — that do not test to ensure federal fuel quality standards are met.

RELATED: What causes tainted gas that strands drivers? Butler County auditor explains (February 2019)

“We know that a car is one of the most expensive things that folks own and that’s what transports them,” Kelly said at a Monday morning press conference at the Butler County Auditors Office in Hamilton.

Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds said he will opt-in if the bill becomes law.

“It’s what moves their family, it’s what gets them to school, to work, to participate in their community, and so this is a really important piece of legislation ensuring not just the safety of the families in our community, but also that consumers are getting what they pay for at the pump,” he said.

“It’s the Wild Wild West when it comes to gasoline in Ohio because there’s nobody testing it.”

County auditors who would test fuel quality will need to purchase new equipment, which could cost upwards of $10,000, but Kelly said that’s an “infinitesimal” investment compared to the damages caused to vehicles.

In 2019, four motorists pumped water-tainted fuel at a Butler County fuel station, and it’s also happened previously in other parts of the county, including in 2018 in West Chester Twp.

Reynolds said the issue is more prevalent at independently owned stations.

“It’s commonsense legislation,” he said. “If the county auditor is going to test for fuel quantity, why not test for fuel quality.”

The bill will allow county auditors to:

• test for federal fuel standards for conventional, biodiesel, blended biodiesel and ethanol extended fuels

• test for octane levels, sediment and water in the fuel

• issue a stop to sale order at first violation

• issue written citations and civil penalties

Auditors can also partner with neighboring or nearby counties to test fuel quality and will send data to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

There are more than 5 billion gallons of fuel sold in Ohio every year, and Lang and Kelly said it would not require any additional staff.

“In all our conversations with the auditors, this will take minutes more,” Kelly said. “It is not overly burdensome for the professionals that are already fulfilling these duties when they’re out at the fuel pumps every day.”

Kelly said Butler and Hamilton counties have an “interesting problem” because it could take just a few minutes to cross the Ohio border into Kentucky or Indiana which regulates fuel quality. That’s a big reason why Lang calls it a business-friendly bill

“Ohio is a six-hour drive from 60 percent of the population of North America, which is why logistics, which is why trucking is such a big industry here in Ohio,” Lang said. “This bill will help us be more business-friendly by ensuring the quality of what we have.”

Not testing fuel quality can also impact stations, Lang said. Convenience stores make a large amount of their revenue from in-store purchases, and if drivers aren’t stopping for gas, they won’t buy those other items.

The four-page bill has already received Republican and Democratic support, including from Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton.

Attempts to legislate fuel quality in Ohio have failed in the past, said Reynolds. Quality testing was not included in the 2019 transportation bill despite a push by some lawmakers and support by county auditors.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, a long-time vocal advocate for fuel quality testing in Ohio, said, “Ohioans are using blind luck at the pump.”

“Consumers have a right to know what they are putting in their vehicles,” said Rhodes in a March 2019 statement during the gas tax increase debate, “especially if it is going to cost even more.”

House Bill 499 is assigned to the House Transportation and Public Safety Committee, which meets on Tuesdays, and the two Ohio lawmakers believe the bill will move fast through the general assembly.

“I think this will put Ohio on a better track and give Ohioans a new sense of confidence when they purchase their fuel at the pump,” said Lang.

WHAT THE BILL WILL DO

House Bill 499 would allow county auditors, among other things, to:

• test for federal fuel standards for conventional, biodiesel, blended biodiesel and ethanol extended fuels;

• test for octane levels, sediment and water in the fuel;

• issue a stop to sale order at first violation; and

• issue written citations and civil penalties.