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Bill could bring octane testing to Pennsylvania gas pumps

HARRISBURG — Legislation allowing octane testing of gasoline at the pump is on its way to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk.

The House approved the bill on Wednesday with little debate. If Corbett signs it, Pennsylvania would lose its status as one of three states that does not test octane levels. Alaska and Nebraska are the others, according to the Pennsylvania AAA Federation.

Kevin Harley, the governor’s spokesman, said he was checking Corbett’s position on the bill.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican, authorizes the Department of Agriculture to conduct “random unannounced” inspections of octane levels. The department now only inspects to make sure the pumps are working.

Some counties such as Allegheny County do their own testing to meet the state mandate for checking that pumps produce proper quantities of gas, said Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview, who recommended quality testing of gas statewide five years ago.

“Consumers should have some state government assurance that they are getting what they pay for at the gas pump,” said Greenleaf. “People’s cars can be damaged due to inaccurate octane levels.”

A Government Accountability Office report in April 1990 found that random gas pump sampling revealed octane mislabeling in 22 percent to 53 percent of pumps in states without testing. The Pennsylvania Association of Weights and Measures that year performed a random testing of octane levels throughout the state and found a failure rate of 17 percent.

Despite an octane testing program to protect consumers, New Jersey officials in 2011 discovered 4 percent or 14 of 325 gas stations inspected had false octane levels.

“AAA has been working on this for more than a decade,” said spokesman Brian Newbacher. “We’re hopeful the governor will sign this important consumer protection given the substantial bipartisan support.”

Newbacher could not explain why it’s taken more than 10 years, other than the legislative process and higher priority items on lawmakers’ agendas. Thousands of bills are introduced each session. In 2011, 134 bills were signed into law; in 2010, there were 136 bills that became law.

In January 2007, Wagner released an audit of the department’s inspection program saying 20 percent of the pumps inspected in 67 counties had out-of-date or missing decals.

Wagner’s audit renewed interest among lawmakers in passing the bill.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].


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