Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Operation Spotlight" Updates and Changes

It’s been two weeks since the Texas Department of Agriculture implemented “Operation Spotlight,” an unprecedented investigation that uncovered dozens of Sunmart fuel stations cheating Texas drivers at the pump.

While the investigation into the calibration of the pumps continues, reinspections of Sunmart’s faulty pumps are underway and should be completed in a few weeks. I’m also pleased to note that Sunmart continues to cooperate with our requests throughout this investigation.

Just over a year ago, I quadrupled fines for fuel pump violations. Now, in light of these heinous actions against Texas consumers, I will seek legislative authority to increase those penalties even further while also strengthening TDA’s consumer protection resources with additional inspectors and enforcement staff. My team and I are working diligently to implement the following improvements in TDA’s regulatory process:
  • Conduct constant trend analyses of inspection data, such as the one that led to Operation Spotlight;
  • Increase penalties for repeat violations resulting from servicing and recalibration conducted by the same company that owns the station;
  • Implement "stop sales" on repeat egregious violators that will prohibit use of fuel pumps, even after recalibrations, until a reinspection by TDA is performed;
  • Improve the regulatory system for licensing fuel pump service companies and technicians;
  • Strengthen the regulations and penalties encouraging octane accuracy;
  • And examine new methods to better analyze inspection data to detect trends of non-compliance.

TDA is currently evaluating the appropriate enforcement actions that should be applied to Sunmart’s initial violations under “Operation Spotlight.” So far, all indications are that penalties will exceed $100,000. This is in addition to all civil or criminal penalties sought by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Consumer protection remains a priority at TDA. As such, we are committed to enforcing regulations that protect Texas consumers, and to seeing that justice be served for those who choose to violate of our state’s regulations.

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