Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

7-21 Smelling Like a Statel French Fry?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Powering our cars with used vegetable oil. What a good idea. If it's not too much extra work and you don't smell like a leftover French fry, it's worth considering. It's free fuel.
It does take some extra work and an initial investment. A car with a gasoline engine can be converted to run on both diesel and vegetable oil for around $3,000. At least one company, in Virginia, is making a conversion kit for a mechanic to install.
Then you need to make a deal with your favorite neighborhood restaurant to take their used vegetable oil off their hands. They have to pay to have it hauled away so it's a win-win situation. And you don't have to buy any more $4 gasoline.
Too good to be true? You're right. The federal government says it's strictly illegal. The Environmental Protection Agency says it must test all fuels before they can be used in vehicles and no one has registered vegetable oil as a fuel.
Now who's going to register vegetable oil as a fuel? The vegetable oil makers don't get anything out of it. I don't know the cost of registering a fuel but I can certainly guess that it is very expensive because that's the way government works.
Normally it would be the industry producing the fuel that would pay for all the tests EPA conducts. But this is a backyard workshop inventors type of deal. There's no one making any money off the fuel
The EPA's answer to this ridiculous situation should be to register the fuel and run the tests itself. Used vegetable oil is an alternative fuel. The government professes to like the idea of alternative fuels
Why would an administration that has its arms wrapped around big oil like alternative fuels? Because oil companies wisely are involved in developing alternative fuels. They prefer to be part of the solution.
This alternative fuel is one which should be enthusiastically encouraged because it is free. But then that may be why oil companies don't like it. They can't make any money from it.
So used vegetable oil is illegal. People who convert their cars face fines of up to $2,750. The garages or companies that convert them are subject to federal fines of $32,500 per violation.
Obviously used vegetable oil is not going to make much of a dent in lowering gas prices or achieving energy independence. But we have to broaden our options as much as possible.
Yes, the EPA needs to assure that what is coming out of the tailpipe is not going to harm the environment or at least not harm it as much as gasoline. Independent studies indicate vegetable oil isn't as harmful as petroleum fuels. And it solves the problem of dumping vegetable oil into landfills.
What does vegetable oil exhaust smell like? Proponents usually say it is a sweet smell. Those who drive the cars usually get teased about the smell. I can't tell. I've been around them but my smeller no longer is what it used to be.
Politicians who want to emphasize their environmental conscientiousness sometimes use vegetable oil in their campaign vehicles.
David Bacon, the Green Party's gubernatorial candidate in 2002 and Public Regulation Commission candidate in 2006, ran his car on vegetable oil.
Don Wiviott, a Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Democratic nomination last spring, used it in his campaign bus, as I recall.
A problem also exists with state governments that don't want vehicles on our highways that aren't paying any fuel tax for their maintenance. But what about cars now under development that use electricity for fuel? Would taxes on one's electric bill take care of that?
Whatever the tax implications, used vegetable oil should receive government encouragement. Along with pure plant oil and biodiesel, they have been researched since automobiles first took to the roads.
We need every bit of help possible to solve this energy crisis.
MON, 7-21-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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