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  Legislative Feature

Repairers Suffer Used Oil Regulatory Gap

Posted 2/6/2004
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.

Automotive repairers are still vulnerable to a gap in a regulatory exemption regarding used oil. ASA encourages its members to contact their congressmen and ask that they co-sponsor H.R. 3543, which would limit liability for repairers who send used oil to recyclers. ASA members should also ask their senators to support Sen. James Inhofe's continued efforts on this issue.

Despite efforts by members of Congress and trade associations, automotive repairers are still vulnerable to a gap in a regulatory exemption regarding used oil. A provision in the federal Superfund law, the Service Station Dealer Exemption (SSDE), exempts repairers who send their used oil to recyclers from possible cleanup liability. Repairers would still have to handle the oil according to requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The problems lie with the point in time the regulations for the exemption were finalized. The Automotive Service Association believes the time between Congress passing legislation and the actual finalizing of the regulations has been unjust for those repairers falling in this liability gap. ASA is not alone. Reps. Marty Meehan, Michael Capuano, Jeb Bradley and Charles Bass stated in a letter to Mike Leavitt, the new administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

"The problem began with the Environmental Protection Agency's interpretation of the SSDE effective date as March 8, 1993 - nearly seven years after the exemption became law - and escalated with the EPA's ongoing failure to implement procedures designed to recognize and assist exemption candidates at eligible Superfund sites.

"By ignoring SSDE candidates, the EPA is circumventing the intent of the law, destroying small businesses, and disrespecting the automotive service sector's successful efforts to prevent do-it-yourselfer used oil production. Refusing to release exempt parties from the Superfund settlement process actually places those parties in a worse position than the average potentially responsible party. SSDE candidates, by definition, are required to accept do-it-yourselfer used oil from the public. In other words, SSDE candidates followed the law, exercised good faith in choosing licensed transporters, and undertook the extra onsite risk and expense of collecting do-it-yourselfer used oil to protect their local communities from dumping."

These members of Congress, along with others, have introduced H.R. 3543 in the U.S. House of Representatives, which will limit liability for those repairers between Nov. 8, 1986, and the date the bill becomes law.

Unfortunately, without a regulatory or legislative change, repairers are still falling prey to large penalties from the EPA. Repairers in Florida recently met with the EPA to discuss their plight, finding few alternatives to paying the financially burdensome fines.

One influential member of the U.S. Senate, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., has searched for a legislative vehicle to attach exemption language. ASA continues to support any legislative effort to resolve this critical issue.

A report in commented, "Some EPA officials, along with environmentalists and several key Democrats, argue that the law already allows liability relief through de minimis and de micromis status, which exempts contributors of small amounts of waste, and that preserving the law is necessary to maintain the 'polluter pays' principle."

The following environmental organizations opposed Inhofe's attempts to resolve our problem last summer:

    Edison Wetlands Association
    Friends of the Earth
    League of Conservation Voters
    Natural Resources Defense Council
    Physicians for Social Responsibility
    Riverkeeper Inc.
    Sierra Club
    U.S. Public Interest Research Group

ASA, along with the Automotive Oil Change Association and the National Automobile Dealers Association, continues to work to resolve this problem. The EPA has planned a public meeting in February to discuss these issues. In the interim, repairers still face stiff fines and a process that inevitably traps them between acting responsibly and an obvious lack of control over the sins of a third party.

ASA encourages its members to contact their congressmen and ask that they co-sponsor H.R. 3543. ASA members should also ask their senators to support Inhofe's continued efforts to rectify our problem.

Bob Redding Bob Redding is the Automotive Service Association's Washington, D.C., representative. He is a member of several federal and state advisory committees involved in the automotive industry.

For more information about the legislative activities of ASA, visit

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