Biodiesel bill revs up

Legislation mandates government use, but has loopholes

Rob Del Bueno, rock star, has been busy recording, mixing and going to photo shoots for the Subsonics’ upcoming album.

Rob Del Bueno, biodiesel entrepreneur, has been even busier. He and his business partner, former abortion-rights activist Beth Cope, formed a biodiesel marketing company last fall. And this winter, while the General Assembly’s in town, Del Bueno and Cope have been raving to lawmakers about biodiesel, the environmentally friendly fuel made from vegetable oils or used restaurant grease.

A couple of times a week, Del Bueno trades in his worn jeans for a sleek suit and tie, and joins Cope to schmooze at the Capitol. The unlikely tag team stands a good chance of getting legislation that would require cities, school districts, counties and state agencies to use alternative fuels in their vehicles. To Del Bueno’s chagrin, the bill has a couple of loopholes.

It would require those agencies to use clean fuels — including biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen and natural gas — as long as they’re similar in cost to traditional fuels, and as long as vehicles don’t need to be modified to run the alternative fuels. Both stipulations give biodiesel an advantage. When purchased in bulk, biodiesel costs about 80 cents a gallon, according to Jill Stuckey, who manages the state’s fuel tanks. Plus, diesel vehicles don’t need to be modified to burn biodiesel.

But the bill won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2007. So it doesn’t quite usher in the sweeping biodiesel revolution Del Bueno dreams about.

“Don’t get me wrong, this is a good step forward and I commend the leadership in support of it,” says Del Bueno, who sounds a lot more like a respectable businessman than he did last October in a CL article about his DIY crusade for biodiesel. “However, I feel future legislative efforts will need to be more specific in order to ensure effectiveness.”

If the bill becomes law, Stuckey says, she’ll have ethanol and biodiesel stations up and running across the state by the end of the year. The Department of Transportation has “tanks pretty much throughout the state, and if they can get the biodiesel, then they can start using it tomorrow in their diesel vehicles,” she says.

The bill’s chances are good. One sponsor is Rep. Bob Hanner, D-Parrott. As chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, Hanner can push it through quickly.

Stuckey says she pushed to have the bill apply statewide to prevent other areas from developing Atlanta-like air problems.

“Diesel is a carcinogen, and we put our school kids on our buses sometimes for half an hour to three hours a day with those windows open. They’re just breathing it in,” Stuckey says. “Biodiesel makes a big difference for the air and for our kids. And it helps our farmers. And it helps get the grease out of landfills.”

Sounds like Stuckey has been reading the magnets on Del Bueno’s car.