Menor grills PUC on fuel-costs survey
A key Senate lawmaker questioned whether the Public Utilities Commission was making its task "unnecessarily complex," and in turn delaying the implementation of a law aimed at letting consumers know what goes into the cost of gasoline sold in Hawaii.
Senate Energy Chairman Ron Menor was responding to information provided by PUC Chairman Carlito Caliboso on the hurdles the commission has faced in setting up the Petroleum Industry Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Program passed by the Legislature last year.
Menor (D, Mililani) held an information briefing yesterday, saying he wanted to get a time line for when the PUC might have the program running.
"We feel that the PUC really must give a high priority to the implementation of the transparency provisions," Menor said. "Consumers really have a right to know why gasoline prices are so high ... and, in my mind, excessive."
Caliboso said the reporting law passed last year placed a heavy burden on the commission at a time when it already had an increasing role in developing new energy policies related to other legislation passed last year.
He also restated that the Legislature did not provide any funding for the oil industry monitoring and that the PUC has tried to implement the law with existing money and jobs.
The data collection and reporting requirements were passed last year, in conjunction with a suspension of the wholesale gasoline price caps. Publicizing the data is seen as a way to let the public know what goes into the cost of gasoline.
Caliboso said the law has added requirements that "exponentially increase the quantity of data that must be collected from the petroleum industry."
Menor said it was the Legislature's intent to have the process be more manageable, and that the PUC might be making its job "unnecessarily complex." He said lawmakers were mainly interested in publicizing the average weekly prices at the major sale points in the gasoline supply chain, those being: how much refiners pay for crude oil, how much refiners sell it at wholesale, how much wholesalers sell it to dealers and how much dealers sell it at the pump.
Making that information public would allow consumers to see whether prices are being set abnormally high at different parts of the chain.
Caliboso said it was important to collect accurate information and also maintain confidentiality for the parties providing the information. "We want to take the time to do this right," he said. "We don't want to put out information that could be inaccurate, misstated or misleading, because that could do more harm."
Caliboso said he could not provide a specific timetable for when the transparency provisions might be partially or fully implemented. Menor asked Caliboso to submit a letter with his best estimate before the end of the legislative session.
Yesterday's hearing came as lawmakers prepare to negotiate the final version of Senate Bill 990, which would clarify and strengthen portions of the law passed last year and provide funding. The PUC has requested $1.2 million to carry out the law.