Do you ever wonder why some products are measured by weight and other products by quantity? Or why we measure some items by mass rather than volume? Why don’t we use the metric system? Who makes these decisions? Arguably one of the most powerful, but little known, agencies is the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Weights and Measures (OWM). Its mission is to “improve the accuracy of measurements, enhance consumer protection, foster fair competition and facilitate economic growth and trade through technical activities that promote uniformity in national and international legal metrology laws, regulations, standards, test procedures and enforcement.” To fulfill this mission, OWM partners with the National Conference of Weights and Measures (NCWM) in standards development.
Each summer, NCWM meets to debate and vote on a wide range of issues involving how best to measure and calibrate a variety of products. It also ensures the accuracy of those measurements and establishes a uniform process to account for any fluctuations or volatility of that weight or measurement. These decisions become the standard for the states, federal government and private sector.
In the past, NCWM has worked on several issues important to the convenience and fuel retailing industry, including whether or not the diesel dispenser filter regulation should move from a required 30 micron filter to a 10 micron filter, as well as establishing a uniform standard for a diesel gallon equivalency (DGE) for compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG), along with a gasoline gallon equivalency (GGE) for LNG.
One issue that has received increased attention at NCWM is the issue of payment card skimming at fuel dispensers. State weight and measurement officials through their inspection process have seen an alarming increase in the detection of skimming devices in gasoline pumps, which are considered a measurement device by NCWM. State officials from Arizona, Florida and Michigan proposed that fuel retailers should be required to install an alarm system and other technology to restrict unauthorized access to gasoline pumps. Because of the complexity of the issue and the need to gain consensus on such a proposal, the Credit Card Skimming Task Group was formed to work on this issue. NACS is a member of the task group and worked with state officials and industry leaders on a compromise proposal that would establish minimum user requirements, such as changing out universal locks on fuel dispensers to reduce skimming. This compromise will be voted on in the annual meeting in July. Though the process took a little longer to build consensus on a new proposal, the final product now has broader support, more flexibility to enhance security and a greater potential for success.
The latest hot topic on the NCWM agenda is focused on making sure Weights and Measures’ handbook of regulations, requirements and standards on fuels is consistent with last summer’s rulemaking by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on allowing E15 to be sold 12 months out of the year by providing a one-pound Reid vapor pressure waiver. With only a few weeks between EPA’s announcement and the annual NCWM summer meeting, an expedited proposal was adopted to avoid contradictions in federal regulations between the Office of Weights and Measures and EPA. However, concerns regarding proper labeling and documentation of fuel specifications have popped up. NCWM’s Subcommittee on Fuels and Lubricants will be reviewing and starting the process to build consensus around a solution.
So, next time you’re at the gasoline pump, imagine what mischief could occur by a little know government entity that is responsible for how your fuel is dispensed, weighed and measured … and ask yourself, is that gallon really a gallon?