Lawmakers OK bill to boost grease-theft penalties

A bill to boost penalties for stealing used cooking oil is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yes, you read that correctly – used cooking oil. Apparently oil from restaurants’ deep fryers has become a hot commodity worth a lot of money, with thieves draining it in the dead of night and selling it for conversion into clean-burning biofuel. Ah, California.

There's gold in that there fryer“As the alternative fuels market keeps growing, the demand for inedible kitchen grease based biofuels will grow as well,” Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, the bill’s author, said in a news release.

“The price increases stemming from this new demand will make grease theft a more lucrative crime in the coming years,” he said. “AB 1566 provides law enforcement with the tools to combat grease theft and protect the burgeoning biofuels market by beefing up requirements for licensed haulers, increasing the penalties for stealing grease and allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to 15 days.”

The penalties have been so minor that many law enforcement agencies don’t even respond when owners report the theft, Holden contends. But according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a typical fast-food restaurant produces 150-250 pounds of grease a week and a fully loaded pumper truck could bring in as much as $900 at a recycling center.

The Assembly voted 70-0 Monday to send the bill to Brown’s desk. The state Senate had approved it 35-0 one week ago.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.