California Targets Veggie Oil

May 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The state of California is clamping down on an unlikely group of violators. They're targeting people who use vegetable oil as fuel for their cars and the regulations even affect Gov. Schwarzenegger. About 250,000 Americans have converted their cars and trucks to run on vegetable oil because it burns cleaner and it's a lot cheaper than gasoline right now, but it could get really expensive now that this state is turning them into outlaws.

Corn oil flows out of the wheel well in Marshall Johnston's trunk to fuel his Volkswagen. It's the same environmentally friendly system that powers Gov. Schwarzenegger's Hummer and it even smells good. "You know, the governor talks about 'you can smell the kind of food' he's running on -- the french fries or whatever," said Johnston.

Johnston fills the tank with free used cooking oil from restaurants or from the shelves of Costco, at about two dollars a gallon. His fellow Fresno Pacific University professor Ken Friesen takes the special cars so seriously, he drove one of them all the way across the country. "It was just to demonstrate what you can do with non-fossil fuel," said Friesen.

But despite the environmental benefits, the state is now targeting veggie oil users with tough regulations. They're required to pay 18 cents in taxes for every gallon they use to pay for roads. Nobody seems to have a problem with that.

But they are also supposed to get a diesel fuel supplier's license since they transport fuel. And along with that, they need $1 million in liability insurance, in case they spill their loads -- even though those loads rarely amount to more than 10 gallons of vegetable oil. "This is not hundreds of gallons being sloshed around," said Friesen.

"We're talking about maybe a couple dozen people in Fresno who are handling their own stuff," said Johnston. "There's really not an environmental danger there."

Like most vegetable oil users, Gov. Schwarzenegger says he's just now finding out about these regulations. He says he will pay taxes on the oil he's used and he'll try to make it easier to use vegetable oil without being an outlaw.


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