Is gathering and burning waste vegetable oil illegal?

First lets break it down into 2 questions.

Question 1.
Is it legal to gather waste vegetable oil.

Who knows?!?! Depends on who you ask, where you live, how much you are hauling, And most importantly, Is anybody really asking?

For 99.9 % of the people who are using waste oil as a fuel, this is not even an issue for them. They make a deal with a local restaurant, pick up a few jugs of oil every week, (which is basically a take out order of greasy fries, minus the fries) and go on about their business. No one bothers them. There is no reason to bother them.

The rendering companies, over the years, have paid for a few laws in a few states, that make it “illegal” to haul waste oil without a permit. (its for your own good you know. It is too dangerous for you to haul 10 gallons of used oil, sitting next to the 10 gallons of new oil you bought to fry a turkey and some fish in) The permit is usually $100 or under, and that is that. The good old American way, use the force of government to favor one business, and require you to pay the ransom for the “right” to do something. To my knowledge the only people who have ever paid attention to this law, is the rendering companies in very competitive oil markets in big cities. The DA has better things to do than to prosecute a dangerous guy with 10 gallons of oil in the back of his Mercedes. I have only heard of 1 or 2 cases where guys that were collecting thousands of gallons of oil, and got into it with the Renderers, and had their hands slapped at the request of the renderers. Like I said they are the only ones who care. It is kind of like some one getting all excited and turning you in for having a garage sale and not collecting sales tax. It isn’t going to happen. The only time the powers that be would care is if you went from a garage sale to a legitimate business open 5 days a week, then they want you to collect the tax. For most of our customers, they are gathering oil from places that don’t have a recycling contract to begin. To me it is a non issue.

There are many arguments you could make for it, how about this one. The oil is food. The restaurant is in the business of selling food, they sell allot of oil with their food. You want the oil, The owner wants to give it to you, buy a burger and fries and ask for a healthy side of oil. You are not hauling grease, you bought food. Will it stand up in court? I don’t know? The chances of you going there are nil. There are many ways to approach it, use your imagination.

But a few things to remember are that people are not getting into trouble over this, and IF there is a “law” it is very questionable if there is any relation to an individual picking up oil for personal use anyway. Whether you burn it in your car feed it to your dogs, or use it to keep the dust down on your gravel road, It doesn’t matter.

If you are gathering on a grand scale, or are in a particularly socialist state and are nervous about it, you might decide to get a renderers license. I encourage everyone to do your home work, study it out in your own mind and decide where you stand on the issue. Ultimately there are endless situations for a variety of different people. It is up to you to decide what your tactic is going to be.

For me personally, I am never for supporting and possibly furthering regulation on something that is so clearly harmless and a natural right. If there is a grey area, which this certainly is, I will side with personal freedom and less regulation. Some people are not comfortable with that. It is for each person to decide for themselves.

Question 2.
Is it legal to use vegetable oil as a fuel?

Most States have no idea where they stand on Vegetable oil as a fuel . It is not an EPA recognized fuel, there for not a “legal” fuel . (Neither is sunshine, water, peanut butter, or small mammals.) Just because something isn’t specifically legal, doesn’t necessarily make it illegal.

In 99% of the cases where people have gone to the state authority and asked “who do I pay for road tax, and how much?” they are told “we don’t know, we have no forms for it, and it isn’t in the book, go away and don’t worry about it.” Every once in awhile they will get the ” You cant do that, you have to fill out the forms, pay the tax, and buy the secret decoder pen to be official!” It is usually and arbitrary decision from a low level administrator that is looking for job security. I have also heard of people getting two different answers out of the same office. The bottom line is nobody really knows in most states, and more importantly very few care. And if they care at all, it is usually positive because they see something good for the environment.

A very interesting point is, the states that will except a voluntary payment of highway tax, are doing so on a “non-legal” and unrecognized fuel. I am sure there is room to explore the ramifications of that concept.

OK, so if there is confusion and different answers amongst the “officials” , then the question has to be asked, why is the question coming up?

Except for 2 instances I know of, which I will discuss later, the only reasons people are getting these varied answers, is because they are doing the asking. This issue is not even on the radar, and the only reason it is coming up is people are asking.

This is really a grey area with white shades in our favor. I have heard and thought of many very plausible arguments as to why using waste vegetable oil is exempt from taxes and is not under any specific jurisdiction.

Without going into great detail, I will mention a few for you to think about, and I am sure if you are inclined you can think of a few yourself.

1. The oil is gathered for free, it is not bought or sold, so there is no taxable event.
2. Sales Tax was paid on the oil when it was bought by the restaurant.
3. Because the vehicle is started and shut down on petroleum diesel, taxes are being paid on that portion, and the veggie oil is only a fuel extender or additive.
4. It is not a recognized fuel, and because of that there is no statute stating the rate of taxation.
5. You only burn veggie oil when you are on private property, or off road, and are not liable for taxes.
6. If no one is asking, (and even if they are) keep it to yourself. It is no one else’s business.

Now the 2 cases I know of where people were “turned in” “fined” or hassled by the Gubment, They could have been totally avoided if the person would have been educated and approached the situation with some anatomy, knowledge and discretion. The “agents” in both situations didn’t have any precedent, they were just applying statute that was similar to see if it would fly. (remember that there is next to no precedent for SVO/WVO cases.) The “guilty” parties were fined. In both cases, within a week there was enough public outrage that the state legislatures passed exemptions for the fines and set the precedent in the positive. So in that sense the people who were involved did ok not resolving it at the scene. The reality was, that once it got past the petty bureaucrats, and went up the line. no one was going to go after these guys for recycling and using a clean alternative fuel. In this day and age it is political suicide to do it.

There is also a very positive movements in several states, and it is gaining momentum. New Mexico and Illinois have “legalized” veggie oil. But one of the most exciting was getting Act 690 passed into law in Arkansas in March 2007. It redefines the law in Arkansas to exempt pure unmodified vegetable oil as a fuel. Essentially saying that they will leave us to use it as we see fit, and they will not tax it or regulate it. Since the passing of the bill several other states have requested information on the bill, and are looking to enact similar laws.

There are essentially 2 paths an individual can choose to take.

1. Seek out regulating agencies, determine if they will take your money, and if they will, volunteer how much oil you are using and pay them.

2. Gather and burn veggie oil, save money, help the environment, don’t support foreign oil, and take the very slight risk that at some point in the future you may have to explain why you chose to do what you did without asking permission and checking if it was OK first.

There are some people who do not feel comfortable with option 2, There is a risk that at some point you will have to explain yourself. Everybody has to study the issue and make up their own minds on the issue.

At this point we are not on the radar, and there is no effort to go after veggie burners. We are seen as hobbyist, and not a threat. There are just too few of us, in the grand scheme of things, to spend the time to create a policy.

In summery, all have to decide for themselves, taking into account their situation, where they live, and how they use the oil, which option they will go for.

Post Script

Now, although my personal position is probably apparent in this essay, I want to stand up and be counted, and state exactly where I personally stand on this issue.

I believe in personal freedom, and along with that personal responsibility. I value my right to gather my own fuel in the private sector, without government intervention or permission, and to provide for the needs of my family. I categorize it under “The pursuit of happiness” It is a God given right, not a privilege granted by statute.

I have not been quiet about my use of veggie oil as a fuel, I am in a high profile situation with my business, and the fact that my vehicles have the fact plastered all over them everywhere I drive.
I feel that with the situation that we have, where we are being left alone for the most part, that we let things be. But if the situation arises to make a difference or to get policy changed we need to be in the fore front and keep things in the private sector and as unregulated as possible. The Exemption we were able to pass into law in Arkansas is a perfect example. We don’t need government help, just get out of our way and let us do it.

I understand that some of us are on a very fine line, between minding our own business and being perceived as thumbing our nose at the powers that be, but with next to no precedent on most of these issues, someone has to stand up and be counted. There is risk involved I for one want to be able to look my kids in the eye when I am old, and know that I did all I could to appose encroaching regulation on our freedom. I hope that the present trend of exemptions for Veggie oil will continue, but if not, there is a need for people to stand up and do what they can to promote less regulation, and the freedom to be a part of the solution on the grass roots level. Pollution and foreign oil are big problems, problems largely created by bad government policy. I for one, am not going to wait around and hope more government policy will fix it.

Yes, there is risk involved in any cause that is trying to change the status quo. I want to be able to look my children in the eye when I am old, and know that I stood up for what I believed in, and did what I could to make the world a better place.

This may seem like an extreme rant to some, and it may resonate with others. Some may believe that in a business forum that I would be better served taking a bit more neutral approach, but why stop now!?! At the risk of angering a few, and not being very politically correct; I second the words of Samuel Adams,

lf ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animated contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

–Samuel Adams

Posted in: Fuel System FAQ, General Questions

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