sign-43874_640Americans have many choices that are denied to citizens of other less-fortunate nations. But we forget how many decisions are made for us, sometimes out of necessity, such as paying taxes; sometimes out of greed, such as the monopolistic actions of oil companies in denying many Americans the ability to purchase alcohol-based fuels at their corner gas station.

Through various rules imposed on gas stations, oil companies limit many of us from using existing, safe, alternative fuels, like E85, and make available only more expensive, environmentally harmful gasoline. For example, gas stations owned or franchised by an oil company have contracts that often prevent them from adding a pump or adding to an existing pump to sell E15 or E85. Gas stations are also generally required to buy fuel from their parent oil companies, which don’t sell E15 or E85. Most oil-company-owned stations and franchises are generally precluded from putting an alternative-fuel pump under the covered island or space out front as well. Stations also face restrictions on advertising alternative fuels as an available product and oil-company pricing limits competition from alternative fuels.

Congress has refused to enact open fuels legislation, which would require oil companies to open up their gas stations to other fuels. Public and private sector advocates, as well as nonprofit groups, are working to enact policies that would convert older cars to flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) and encourage Detroit to build more FFVs. Such policies could unlock a large consumer market for alternative fuels and generate a positive market reaction among independent gas companies and, perhaps, even some smart oil companies.

Given the recent discussions on oil and gas exports, a possible compromise might allow increased exports only if the oil companies agree to require their stations and franchises to offer alternative fuels in a primary space alongside gasoline. A bit of tat for tat is in the public interest. Let freedom ring for consumers! Let capitalism mean competition for gasoline and alternative fuels at your nearby gas station! Oh, I forgot, alternative fuel station!

Would you support legislation that requires oil companies to make alternative fuels available at their gas stations? What are the barriers to opening fuel markets to consumers?