The long lines at gas stations following superstorm Sandy are not images that will easily be forgotten. In many cases, it wasn’t a gas shortage that was the problem, but a lack of electricity that prevented pumping.
In order to prevent such a predicament in the future, some state lawmakers are introducing bills that would mandate that gas stations have a backup generator, and would provide them with a tax credit to help offset the cost.
State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket) has legislation that is in the drafting phase and is cosponsored by Queens Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica). There is a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland-Orange), which was referred to the Rules Committee on Nov. 14.
“The gas station owners are already up in arms,” Scarborough said. “They don’t want the extra cost. If they can’t pump gas, they get reimbursed for their loss, but in this case they need to make an investment, and it’s a worthwhile investment.”
Kevin Beyer, the president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, is against such legislation, citing cost, space, operational requirements and a myriad of other reasons. Similar bills have been introduced by Nassau County legislators, he said.
Beyer, whose group includes Queens gas stations, believes that this type of legislation would only be effective if it were uniform across the region and the state or federal government covered the cost. He suggests a simpler solution of making gas stations a priority for power restoration when outages occur.
Beyer said that mandating the installation of a generator would force some independent stations to close or raise their prices to cover the cost. He said that most gas stations make their money not from fuel, but from on-site convenience stores at the site, which require a lot of electricity on their own.
Generators that can provide uninterrupted power for gas pumps, refrigerator units and computer systems can cost between $30,000 to $40,000, according to Beyer.
Other reasons he opposes generator-mandating legislation is that such machines require a lot of space, which most gas stations don’t have. They would increase the price of insurance and employees would have to be trained to maintain and operate the generators safely.
“One of our pet peeves is when lawmakers introduce legislation that impacts an industry, without consulting the industry,” said Michael Watt, executive director of LIGRA.
Watt noted that in many cases gas station owners only have a three-year lease on their business and therefore it doesn’t make sense for them to spend thousands on a generator. “It’s like living in an apartment and putting in a whole new kitchen when you know you are only going to be there for three years,” Watt said.
The Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey also opposes such legislation, which it believes would be unfair since a generator mandate is not imposed on other industries.
Scarborough allowed that “These are reasonable concerns that need to be addressed,” but “We can’t forget that the gas crisis immobilized large parts of the city, and it could have been avoided.”
At least some Queens residents agree.
George Buonocore, of Howard Beach, who said his wife waiting in line for over 12 hours to purchase 8 gallons of gas after the storm, supports the legislation.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Buonocore said. “People say we are on track for more hurricanes. Hopefully, that’s not true. But at least we can be prepared. There is no reason for us not to have gas. This is America.”
City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) supports the gas generator mandate and submitted a legislative service request on Nov. 13 for a similar bill in the council.
“It’s a very good idea,” Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for Halloran, said Tuesday. “The government already regulates gas stations and all the equipment and apparatus they are required to have. This is a minimal additional burden that will be beneficial in the long run. They will still be able to pump gas even when the power goes out.”