January 17, 2009

Kahului trip query

Filed under: General — Doug @ 11:01 am

Hey, readers, I’m going to be on Maui in March for the Run to the Sun… and I’m cheap!

Is it really necessary to rent a car to travel from the airport to the Maui Seaside hotel in Kahului? Are there any busses or airport shuttles? I’ll only have a carry-on bag, so (since the race is 36 miles and this trip looks to be about 2 miles) I could even make the connection on foot if the roads are not no-shoulder deathtraps.

Draw your own conclusions about gasoline margins, because the data are all redacted

Filed under: Hawaii State Politics — Doug @ 10:26 am

I am very disappointed in the Advertiser story (attributed to “Staff”) based upon a Public Utilities Commission report to the Legislature (PDF) written by a consulting firm.

The report produced for the Hawai’i Public Utilities Commission was mandated in 2006 as legislators moved away from a controversial eight-month-long gas price control program that resulted in pricing abnormalities and volatility.

Okay, that much I can agree with. From there, though, the consultant’s report (and the Advertiser’s coverage of it) plummets off the credibility cliff. As I have lamented many times in the past, the PUC placed a protective order over the information submitted by the refiners. As a result, there is so much secrecy that it’s impossible to judge the veracity of any so-called “conclusions” drawn from data that are not subject to public/peer review.

Indeed, the report even condescends to include passages such as:

It is very easy to come to incorrect conclusions without understanding all the factors around any numbers presented. The amount of information provided is extensive, and can easily be misrepresented, or misinterpreted without great care to insure that all price and volume information are properly compared, aggregated, and analyzed.

“So, we will not tell you any of it, simply to protect yourself from your own ignorance. You’re welcome.”

The article, unfortunately, does not mention that nearly every substantive part of the report is redacted to omit the key (confidential) data. Instead we see a list of bullet points in the article, each reported at face value without comment. Sure, if the story is about the report, then the story is accurate to the extent that the report does indeed include those points. But you’d think claims like this would be worth a bit of explanation, or at least investigation:

The monitoring system “still has some data and category issues to resolve, but it appears that the reporting and visibility of petroleum market information to the commission (PUC) has provided a transparency and watchdog role that was absent in the past,” the report said.

Yes, PIMAR has provided “a” transparency and watchdog role that was absent,” but PIMAR has not yet provided true transparency for gasoline consumers.

“There do not appear to be any aberrant pricing activities by any of the reporting parties.”

An interesting adjective choice. If Hawaii gasoline consumers are consistently being gouged, then continued gouging would not be deviating from the norm.

Hawai’i's refineries operated by Tesoro Corp. and Chevron Corp., had poor profit margins compared to other U.S. refineries. It noted the refiners’ margins had been squeezed by rising crude oil costs and a shrinking market for production as consumers pulled back on purchases.

Again, if only undefined, relative terms like “poor compared to other U.S. refineries” are to be used, and if those profit margins at other U.S. refineries are not revealed, then this bullet point means very little, if anything.

Hawai’i refinery margins for bulk sales of gasoline to suppliers were “competitive” with other markets considering location differences.

Well, at least the scare quotes imply that the term “competitive” is not defined…

Supplier profits on sales to service stations were reasonable in 2006, but have been falling since then.

No scare quotes on the word “reasonable,” even though that term is also undefined.

Seriously, scroll your way through that PDF report and you’ll be struck by how many figures are reduced to empty white space and by how much text (including entire paragraphs in some places, and a few useful words in other places) is redacted. You really need to look at the report to see how much secrecy the public is asked to ignore in order to accept the conclusions on faith. The Advertiser dropped the ball here, big time.

Anybody have access to an un-redacted copy? I want one badly.

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