And Don't Let Us Catch You Innovating Again

The state of Illinois makes its contribution to the search for alternative energy:

David Wetzel, 79, was surprised to hear a knock on the door at their eastside home while he was still getting dressed.

Two men in suits were standing on his porch.

"They showed me their badges and said they were from the Illinois Department of Revenue," Wetzel said. "I said, 'Come in.' Maybe I shouldn't have."

[...]

The agents informed the Wetzels that they were interested in their car, a 1986 Volkswagen Golf, that David Wetzel converted to run primarily from vegetable oil but also partly on diesel.

Wetzel uses recycled vegetable oil, which he picks up weekly from an organization that uses it for frying food at its dining facility.

"They told me I am required to have a license and am obligated to pay a motor fuel tax," David Wetzel recalled. "Mr. May also told me the tax would be retroactive."

Since the initial visit by the agents on Jan. 4, the Wetzels have been involved in a struggle with the Illinois Department of Revenue. The couple, who live on a fixed budget, have been asked to post a $2,500 bond and threatened with felony charges.

[...]

David Wetzel was told to contact a revenue official and apply for a license as a "special fuel supplier" and "receiver." After completing a complicated application form designed for businesses, David Wetzel was sent a letter directing him to send in a $2,500 bond.

[...]

A couple of weeks later, David Wetzel received another letter from the revenue department, stating that he "must immediately stop operating as a special fuel supplier and receiver until you receive special fuel supplier and receiver licenses."

This threatening letter stated that acting as a supplier and receiver without a license is a Class 3 felony. This class of felonies carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Hat tip: My dad.

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  • Guy Montag||

    Damn revenuers!

  • ||

    Who knew that seeking alternatives to the military-industrial complex was on par with felonious assault and armed robbery.

  • ||

    Is it ironic that the vehicle in question is a volkswagon?

  • ||

    what other diesel-using small passenger cars do you know?

    and it's VOLKSWAGEN. with an e.

  • ||

    How do these people sleep at night? Do they think the world is a better place because of their enforcement of counterproductive and arbitrary laws?

  • ||

    The money for the dole has to come from somewhere...

    CB

  • dhex||

    the real question is: who narc'd on them?

  • ||

    I wonder how many of the other 49 states take a friendlier attitude towards this sort of thing.

  • ||

    Three words: Rod Fucking Blagojevich

  • ||

    This is the world we live in. You need to consult a lawyer and an accountant before tinkering in garage.

  • severin||

    Where's Al Gore when you need him? Oh yeah, he is probably on the governments side, because even though this guy is being energy efficent he is also avoiding paying "his fair share" of taxes.

  • ||

    Is it ironic that the spelling polizei missed the nazi referance.
    and oh by the way.
    there was Izusu, Chevy , Audi, Oldsmobile,

  • Dave W.||

    Bad government regulation.

    Who lobbied for it in the first place, d'ya think?

    I guessing that it is basically the same answer as "who narced?"

    Think hard.

  • Dan T.||

    Here's the part that Mr. Balko leaves out:

    State legislators have rallied to help the Wetzels.

    State Sen. Frank Watson, R-Greenville, introduced Senate Bill 267, which would curtail government interference regarding alternative fuels, such as vegetable oil. A public hearing on the bill will be at 1 p.m. today in Room 400 of the state Capitol.

    "I would agree that the bond is not acceptable, $2,500 bond," Watson said, adding that David Wetzel should be commended for his innovative efforts. "(His car) gets 46 miles per gallon running on vegetable oil. We all should be thinking about doing without gasoline if we're trying to end foreign dependency.

    "I think it's inappropriate of state dollars to send two people to Mr. Wetzel's home to do this. They could have done with a more friendly approach. It could have been done on the phone. To use an intimidation factor on this - who is he harming? Two revenue agents. You'd think there's a better use of their time," Watson said.


    Hmm...an elected official acting reasonably and trying to help citizens who are being unfairly targeted by the government? Can't have that in an H&R post!

  • ||

    Thanks Dan T., naughty, naughty, mr Balko.

  • ||

    I smell Big Corn Oil.

    And, by the way, Dan, where were your heroes of the public weal when this anticompetition ordinance was introduced, debated, and passed?

  • Dave W.||

    And, by the way, Dan, where were your heroes of the public weal when this anticompetition ordinance was introduced, debated, and passed?

    Probably Dearborn.

  • Guy Montag||

    Good thing it was not a Sam's Club charging less than wholsale on organic diesel and gasoline! They would have hell to pay.

  • ||

    Before you get too full of yourself Dan, let's see if the bill passes and what the regulatory framework actually looks like after the fact. My hunch is that Mr. Wetzel is going to wish he had simply remained anonymous, in any event. The cynic in me expects the same special interests that penned the initial regulations are going to have their say while the right honorable Watson gets to look like he "is doing something."

  • Dan T.||

    And, by the way, Dan, where were your heroes of the public weal when this anticompetition ordinance was introduced, debated, and passed?

    Nobody's my "hero" in this case, I was just pointing out the way Mr. Balko cherry-picked excerpts from the article to give a skewed impression of what was going on.

  • ||

    Dan,

    I'm not sure that a single state rep looking to pass a law on the subject necessarily changes how these people are being screwed. It would only matter if said state rep can get the felony charges dropped, and the taxes waived.

    Even if they were to change the law after the fact, I don"t think that would help the Wetzels.

  • ||

    Utterly ridiculous.

  • Dan T.||

    Dan,

    I'm not sure that a single state rep looking to pass a law on the subject necessarily changes how these people are being screwed. It would only matter if said state rep can get the felony charges dropped, and the taxes waived.


    I agree, and only time will tell how things turn out. Maybe pressure from the state legislature and the public will cause the tax collectors to drop this case, who knows?

    My complaint was with what Mr. Balko decided to include and omit from his blog post, that's all. If you didn't click on the link you'd have no idea that there was any concern on the part of the government that citizens were getting shafted by having a law that was meant to apply to businesses applied to them.

  • Pat||

    Nobody's my "hero" in this case, I was just pointing out the way Mr. Balko cherry-picked excerpts from the article to give a skewed impression of what was going on.

    It doesn't skew the impression one bit for the simple reason that it doesn't change the fact of what is happening to these folks. That there is a lone politician who thinks they are being wronged has no bearing on the fact that they are being wronged.

  • ||

    I hate to say it, but there is some sense to the law. I don't want my neighbor brewing gasoline in their garage. Vegtable oil is fine though.

  • ||

    Dan T.

    Radley also left this part out.

    On the department of revenue's Web site, David Wetzel discovered that the definition of special fuel supplier includes someone who operates a plant with an "active bulk storage capacity of not less than 30,000 gallons." Wetzel also did not fit the definition of a receiver, described as a person who produces, distributes or transports fuel into the state. So Wetzel withdrew his application to become a supplier and receiver.

    Mike Klemens, spokesman for the department of revenue, explained that Wetzel has to register as a supplier because the law states that is the only way he can pay motor fuel tax.

    But what if he is not, in fact, a supplier? Then would he instead be exempt from paying the tax?


    So he isn't a supplier, by definition, but they still want him to register as one. Sounds like he is getting the shaft from the state to me.

  • ||

    Severin,

    What the hell does Al Gore have to do with this? "Probably"? Are you reading his mind? Yeah, that Gore is such a hypocrite, I can't believe he said all that shit you just made up!

  • Dan T.||

    It doesn't skew the impression one bit for the simple reason that it doesn't change the fact of what is happening to these folks. That there is a lone politician who thinks they are being wronged has no bearing on the fact that they are being wronged.

    That depends on how the whole situation turns out, doesn't it?

  • ||

    "What the hell does Al Gore have to do with this?"

    I would be interested to hear what his stance on this would be.

    On the one hand, Gore's a big supporter of doing things to save the environment.

    On the other, he's a statist goon.

  • ||

    Three words: Rod Fucking Blagojevich

    In the interest of brevity, we shorten this to "Fucking Blago!"

  • ||

    [ . . .] received another letter from the revenue department, stating that he "must immediately stop operating as a special fuel supplier and receiver until you receive special fuel supplier and receiver licenses."

    These licenses seems suspiciously like those that the State imposes on many other productive endevours as a way to limit competition, like medical licenses, dentist, electricians, plummers, and hairdressers. You've gotta love those government-mandated monopolies. . . they keep us "safe" from the arduous and dangerous task of making decisions for ourselves.

  • ||

    God forbid anyone give Dan T. a break.

    But more from the article..

    "State Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, also plans to support legislation favoring alternative fuels.

    "I'm disappointed that the Illinois Department of Revenue would go after Mr. Wetzel," Flider said. "I don't think it is a situation that merits him being licensed and paying fees.

    "The people at the department of revenue apparently feel they need to regulate him in some way. We want to make sure that he is as free as he can be to use vegetable oil. He's an example of ingenuity. Instead of being whacked on the head, he should be encouraged."

    I predict that a the result of this is a new law encouraging this type of behavior.

  • Pat||

    That depends on how the whole situation turns out, doesn't it?

    Regardless of how it turns out later, they are still being wronged now.

  • ||

    Great, so instead of people being left alone, we have more fucking laws being written all to "permit" and "allow" us to excerise our natural fucking rights. Good show.

  • ||

    Damaged J

    Not sure if that was in response to my comment, but if it was...

    I predict that the law encouraging this type of behavior would be something like a tax credit, a reduced license fee, etc...

    We'll have to see. Not all laws are about "permitting" or "allowing." Some are about encouraging and supporting. This whole snafu may result in one of this genre.

  • ||

    Neu Mejican,

    I agree that it's a positive that the state would change the laws in response to Mr. Wetzel's situation. It's just that, like Suzaette Kelo, or the kid in GA serving the statutory rape sentence, changing the law after someone gets screwed doesn't help the person being screwed now.

  • ||

    "Not all laws are about "permitting" or "allowing." Some are about encouraging and supporting."

    Clearly those sorts of laws aren't needed in this situation either, if Mr. Wetzel was able to affect this conversion without government interference. Call me a knee-jerk if you will, but my impression is that the best thing the state can do about this is butt out.

  • ||

    The newspapers in Illinois are always full of our friendly politicians trying to pass new laws to save us from the stupid laws they just passed.

    But let's remember this: they really do care, and isn't that all that matters? For example, none of our politicians wants to send a parent to jail for buying cold medicine for his or her kids. And they will stop at nothing (short of repealing the law) to make sure that those parents don't go to jail!

  • ||

    When Illinois passes its pending gross receipts tax on businesses, I'm sure there will be some exemptions for gross receipts generated by alternative fuels (i.e., anything made from the State's corn crop)...

    a beautiful scheme...The State passes laws to tax an enterprise on every bit of productive work, then arbitrarily suspends them on those special interests the state deems acceptable...

    The exodus of business from Illinois should be stunning...there will be alot brewing vegetable oil--or meth--in Illinois garages then.

  • ||

    Is it ironic that the spelling polizei missed the nazi referance.

    Not any more ironic than a guy using the most efficient diesel car for alternative fuel. I think there's a better term for that... like maybe "utterly obvious"

    And I didn't "miss" any "referance" so much as put forth a vain hope that maybe not every thread in the world doesn't have to be Godwin-ed immediately.

  • ||

    David, Hugh.

    I don't disagree with either of you.
    I am just making an observation.

    One of the prime motivators for legal changes comes from percieved problems with the status quo. If that status quo includes a law, that law may get changed. With the perceived need to encourage energy alternatives, my guess is that the law will change from a (likely unintentional) prohibitive one to one that encourages this type of behavior.

    Just because one person take the initiative without state intervention does not mean that state actions to encourage that same initiative in others will not result in a greater number of people doing it that would have if no state action were taken.

  • ||

    Assume that last post made sense despite all the spelling problems and typos...

    "takes"
    "than would"

  • ||

    I am guessing that no one "narc'd" on them. They were probably in all the news and papers talking about their french fry car.

    I read articles all the time about old guys with fry oil VWs, electric cars,etc.

  • ||

    This is a stereotypical example of bureaucracy run amok, and considering who runs the state I'm not surprised. Gun owners in IL have been dealing with crap like this for years.

    But biodiesel is probably the most-overhyped environmental fad to come down the pike in a long time. The case for biodiesel rests on the false assumption that there are billions of gallons of used cooking oil just waiting to be used, when in reality almost all of it is already being recycled in the form of soap and animal feed.

    Burning the stuff in your Volkswagen will help your pocketbook, but it won't really do much for the environment because whatever you take out will be replaced by increased planting of rapeseed or oil palms. There's actually a net negative impact in environmental terms.

  • lunchstealer||

    Seems like they just need a blanket "home use exception" to the tax laws. Homebrew beer and wine, in most states, is excempted from regulation, so long as you do not sell it, and limit your production to some nominal amount.

    In Texas, I believe I calculated the limit to be high enough that if you were consuming all the beer yourself you'd have to drink the equivalent of a sixpack or a twelvepack every single day of the year to exceed the limit, and even producing double the limit would be so hard to prove that it wouldn't make much sense to prosecute.

    If you make a blanket 'safe home use exception' to tax laws and regulations, that solves the problem. The above-mentioned homebrew-gasoline problem could be an issue, since while diesel and vegetable oil are not particularly volatile, home distillation of gasoline could be dangerous - not just to you but to your neighbors. I think it's not an unreasonable extension of the castle principle to expect that you shouldn't have to worry about being killed while doing yardwork because your neighbor's home-built petroleum cracking tower blows up.

  • ||

    Biodiesel is certainly a fad that can't scale up, but how do you figure this?

    Burning the stuff in your Volkswagen will help your pocketbook, but it won't really do much for the environment because whatever you take out will be replaced by increased planting of rapeseed or oil palms. There's actually a net negative impact in environmental terms.



    What's the net negative impact of planting CO2-reducing crops?

  • Dave W.||

    I am guessing that no one "narc'd" on them. They were probably in all the news and papers talking about their french fry car.

    Some enforcers care about what they read in the paper.

    Other enforcers care about whether a friend of the governor's read the paper and gave the governor a phone call.

    Which kind of enforcement action do you think this was?

  • Gray Ghost||

    What's the net negative impact of planting CO2-reducing crops?

    Chopping down rainforest for the plantations to satisfy the increased demand for palm oil. This may be carbon-neutral, but it's hell on biodiversity. Of course, who knows if the rain forest was just going to be chopped down anyway, a la Amazonia?

  • LarryA||

    Not all laws are about "permitting" or "allowing." Some are about encouraging and supporting.

    Actually all environmental laws ever passed are about "encouraging and supporting." At least it says so on the label.

  • ||

    What's the net negative impact of planting CO2-reducing crops?

    Because they don't significantly reduce CO2. In the case of crops like rapeseed, you have to first use crude oil in the form of diesel fuel, fertilizers and pesticides to plant, grow, harvest and process the crop. In addition, you take most of the CO2 that has been sequestered in the crop and release it back into the atmosphere.

    Then there's the effect of that higher demand on food prices, as used oil producers sell it to the highest bidder. You get higher food prices and spot shortages like you're getting now with corn, thanks to the ADM-Cargill inspired ethanol idiocy.

    In short, biomass is a losing proposition in terms of energy if you have to plant more and more acres of farmland in order to satisfy demand. It's better in environmental terms just to pump crude oil out of the ground and send it to a refinery.

    If all that used cooking oil was getting dumped into landfills I could see the advantage of biodiesel; otherwise you're just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

  • ||

    On the environmental side of things, let's not forget that if humans are a significant contributor to global warming, the culprit is burning hydrocarbons, not foreign oil. So powering your car on Crisco won't have much effect on your carnbon footprint.

  • ||

    So powering your car on Crisco won't have much effect on your carnbon footprint.

    ?

    Crisco comes from carbon that was in the air last year, and the resultant CO2 goes right back into next year's Crisco. Petroleum comes from carbon that was in the air a hundred million years ago, and there is no present day reservoir on the carbon balance sheet for CO2 resulting from fossil fuels -- except for the atmosphere.

    Nothing here implies whether burning Crisco makes sense in the large. But it is first-order carbon-neutral.

  • ||

    Nothing here implies whether burning Crisco makes sense in the large. But it is first-order carbon-neutral.

    No, it's not. Third-order, or maybe second order. But not "first order".

    It's because we're already using Crisco as a food, and already recycling most of the waste. As I said earlier, it would be "carbon neutral" if it was all being wasted instead of recycled, but in the current situation you're essentially taking it from one user and giving it to another.

    Which means that you have to increase the amount you produce to make up for the shortfall. You'll end up significantly expanding the amount of farmland in use, and emitting more carbon during the production process in order to get the same amount of energy from the oil. True, you emit less carbon overall than with fossil fuels, but the amount of carbon emitted each year will still increase.

    Not to mention the environmental effects of all that expanded farmland and increased fertilizer and pesticide use. So in terms of environmental impact, biodiesel is really not a good idea.

  • ||

    So in terms of environmental impact, biodiesel is really not a good idea.

    If it's true that millions more acres of farmland are needed, this is true. There is a surplus of used vegetable oil though, admittedly, it is probably less than "billions of gallons". Here's an idea that 98% of the people on this site should be able to agree on: if the gov't doesn't distort the market with massive incentives, the market for used veg oil should intelligently distribute it to its best marginal destination.

    there is some sense to the law. I don't want my neighbor brewing gasoline in their garage

    Understandable, but brewing biodeisel is not nearly as dangerous as refining gasoline. The volatility of biodeisel is lower than petrodeisel - enough so that it does not require "flammable" flags or hazmat certified drivers. The flash point of biodeisel is around 375º

  • ||

    ugh. Biodiesel.

  • ||

    The problem here is that they're evading road taxes. A significant part of the money saved by brewing your own is skipping out on the taxes to fix the potholes. Ditto running your car on LPG. Ditto buying fuel for off-road 'farm use' and then using it to power your VW. Brew-your-own biodiesel can be a form of tax-evasion. Illinois seems to be awfully heavy-handed in this case, but requiring people who use alternate fuels to pay road taxes (and catching and punishing evaders) is as reasonable as doing so for other kinds of evaders.

  • ||

    No, it's not. Third-order, or maybe second order. But not "first order".

    You must order your orders differently from mine...

    First order: Every bit of carbon that goes into the atmosphere due to burning Crisco came from the atmosphere.

    Second order: Growing corn requires significant other inputs of energy, detracting from if not entirely negating the carbon neutrality.

    Third order: The increased requirement for corn pushes new production onto more marginal lands, which require even higher growing and transport energy inputs.

  • ||

    By the way, there is a point to Hugh's notion that all carbon burned is carbon burned and perhaps should be separately accounted.

    It's hard to find solid numbers, but it looks like the biofuel yield from corn after all the accounting is done is on the order of 200 gallons of gasoline per acre.

    The state of Wisconsin has a procedure for measuring for carbon sequestration in intentionally fallow fields. In their example they arrive at 6.5 tons of CO2 per acre per year for Farmer Patrick. That's the equivalent of 670 gallons of gasoline per acre! And with no tractors, fertilizer, refineries, or transport costs.

    So, yes. Burning gasoline while letting fields go fallow may well be better for the economy and for the carbon balance than trying to make "carbon neutral" fuel from vegetation.

  • Nobody Important||

    And Don't Let Us Catch You Innovating Again
    Radley Balko | March 19, 2007, 9:09am
    The state of Illinois makes its contribution to the search for alternative energy:



    Some things never change. Especially in Illinois.

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/29539.html

    Brickbats

    Charles Oliver | November 1994

    [snip: scroll down to second item]

    A Chicago man thought that he would do his part to help clean up the air by purchasing an electric car. But state motor vehicle officials refused to grant the car a license. Why? State law demands that all cars pass an emissions test. Since the car has no emissions there is no way to test it. Therefore, the state of Illinois wouldn't license it. Something tells me that people at the vehicle inspections department have spent just a little too much time sniffing at exhaust pipes.

  • Robert||

    Biodiesel is kewl because it gets people doing organic chemistry at home -- transesterif'n & work-up of product. Even better than soapmaking because they get to use anhydrous meOH in addition to catalytic NaOH. The more people doing stuff like this at home and be deemed patriotic and environmentally friendly for doing so (even if that's all hooey), thereby gaining support from the "left", "right", and middle, the better we can preserve and even expand access to supplies & equipment for home experimenters.

    We need more hobby firework and rocket makers too. Also distillers of various essences. Hydroponics. Discrete electronic components.

  • ||

    Here's an idea that 98% of the people on this site should be able to agree on: if the gov't doesn't distort the market with massive incentives, the market for used veg oil should intelligently distribute it to its best marginal destination.

    Hear, hear!

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