Recycling gone wrong? Jeep dealer fined $44,600 by EPA

Agency stated man failed to keep track of oil burned for heat

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2007

So much for recycling.

A Douglas Jeep dealer was fuming Thursday over a $44,600 fine from the Bush administration for failing to properly document used oil he burned to heat his building.

"It is legalized extortion, because you can't fight the U.S. government when you are a business this size," said Mike Hatch, who has owned Mike Hatch Jeep on North Douglas Highway for the past 30 years.

The Environmental Protection Agency claimed Hatch failed to keep proper track of 5,475 gallons of used oil he burned in his building's heater between December 2003 and April 2006.

The business may have been burning contaminated oil, said agency official Peter Magolske, who indicated that the burden of proof was on the accused rather than the accuser.

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"They have to demonstrate that the oil is not contaminated with substances that could be harmful," Magolske said.

The oil may have included substances such as cleaning solvents that pose risks to humans when burned, the agency alleged. The amount of oil was equivalent to about 100 barrels.

Hatch said wasn't he aware that he had been doing anything wrong. He said he received a permit to burn the used oil 15 years ago.

"What it boiled down to ... I was getting used oil from other places here in town to heat the shop with," he said.

"Then along came the United States government and said I just didn't have the correct documentation," he said.

What really made Hatch mad was that nobody ran any tests - meaning nothing was proven.

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Magolske said the problem lay in the uncertainty.

"The risk was largely that they didn't know," he said.

The improper documentation was discovered during a routine inspection of the dealership and a review of the company records. The alleged violations are covered under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Magolske said that businesses need to be aware of the requirements if they are going to burn used oil, which is legal and commonplace in Alaska.

Violations likely are occuring at other facilities, but Magolske said agency officials rely on inspectors to gather the information to launch an investigation.

As for Hatch, he's taken the experience as a lesson in civics and has quit getting used oil from other businesses.

"Absolutely not. The sad part is, other garages have to pay to get rid of it," he said.

"I learned a lot about the government," he said.

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