Members of the Senate Economic Affairs Committee have received letters from an official of the U.S. Department of Energy asking them to vote against a bill that would prohibit oil companies from charging a fee to dealers who accept company credit cards.
Leonard Coburn, director of DOE's office of competition, said the bill is anticompetitive, anticonsumer and "another example of special interest legislation designed to help a special group of businessmen, gasoline dealers in this case, to the detriment of the general public."
Coburn's letter was denounced by Sen. Sidney Kramer (D - Montgomery), sponsor of the bill, as meddling by a federal agency in Maryland affairs.
"I'm very much disturbed. It's another instance of the petroleum industry going to their friends in the energy department . . . ," Kramer said.
The General Assembly passed a law last year that was intended to resolve the complaints by independent service station dealers.
Dealers complained that oil companies were forcing them to pay a fee of about 3 percent of the cost of all gasoline purchases charged on company credit cards. The dealers protested that it was unfair to make them pay the cost of extending credit.
Last year's bill prohibited charges under the state's revolving credit laws. Some oil companies got around that law by requiring Maryland customers to pay their bills within 60 days and not charging them interest. Kramer's bill would prohibit fees under all circumstances.
Coburn, in his letter to committee members, said a processing fee is a way for oil companies to pass on the cost of extending credit to the customers who use it.