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CALIFORNIA- Veggie oil burners get burned by state's regulatory red tape
Fryer grease users frustrated by legal hurdles blocking way
Even governor owes taxes
The regulations are so burdensome that even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, trying to set an example for Californians by driving a Hummer that burns cooking oil, has not complied. Schwarzenegger, who has said that the exhaust from his Hummer smells so much like French fries that his passengers get hunger pangs, was unaware that he was required to send Sacramento an 18-cent road tax for every gallon of kitchen oil he burned, according to spokesman Aaron McLear. After the Los Angeles Times raised the issue, McLear said the governor would pay the taxes he owed.
The governor's staff says it is working on making it easier to drive using vegetable oil without being an outlaw.
Users go underground
Almost all of them are doing it underground. The state tax board has processed fewer than 70 of the required "fuel supplier" licenses, according to a spokeswoman. Most of those are for businesses selling commercial biodiesel, a more mainstream fuel that is typically mixed with as much as 80 percent petroleum.
State agencies say they have reasons for doing things the way they do.
Tax authorities say biofuel drivers need to pay for using California's roads, just like everyone else, and there is no simple way to collect from those who don't go to the gas pumps, where road taxes are normally levied.
Enforcement is selective
State Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale (Butte County), a rice farmer who is handy with car engines, expressed bewilderment at the hoops Tiffany had to jump through to get permission to transport a few gallons of used fryer grease.
"Why do you even tell anyone you are taking it?" he asked.
Tiffany reminded the assemblyman that it was required by law.
Although most drivers burning kitchen oil have managed to evade enforcement - government agencies say they have handed out few citations - those who attract attention to themselves by promoting the alternative fuel tend to hear from regulators.
Craig Reece, owner of PlantDrive in Berkeley, which sells kits to convert diesel engines to run on vegetable oil, said he got a call from state officials about paying the road tax. He has since been sending the tax forms to all his customers, but he figures only a few are actually registering with the state and keeping logs of how much oil they burn.
"A lot of my customers think this fuel should be exempt from taxes," he said. "They feel they ought to get something for the climate-change-neutral aspect of it."
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