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Up in smoke

TORONTO, Ont. - When Challenger Motor Freight designed its state-of-the-art 126,000 sq.-ft. headquarters last year, it did so with the environment in mind. Part of the company's environmental strategy...

TORONTO, Ont. – When Challenger Motor Freight designed its state-of-the-art 126,000 sq.-ft. headquarters last year, it did so with the environment in mind. Part of the company’s environmental strategy involved implementation of a costly used oil heating system that provides heating for the company’s maintenance shop. Three waste oil furnaces were installed as well as an 80,000 litre underground storage tank.

Now Challenger, environmental award winner and member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) SmartWay Partnership Program, has been told by the province it has two years to convert its heating system to one that burns traditional furnace fuel or shut it down altogether.

The province announced in January that it is banning the use of waste oil heaters in Southern Ontario. The ban does not extend to Northern Ontario because Northerners have fewer disposal options, the ministry said. Environment Minister Laurel Broten said about 500 facilities – many of which are trucking operations – will be affected. She said the ban will prevent about 10 million litres of oil from being burned in waste oil heaters and greenhouse gases will be reduced by nearly 40 tonnes per space heater each year.

But the announcement leaves many owners of waste oil heaters questioning the government’s motives. Ron Lugowski, part owner of waste oil furnace supplier De-On Supply, says the government announced the ban with no public consultation or scientific evidence supporting its claims. He accuses the province of pandering to the province’s re-refiners, which buy back used oil and re-refine it back into lube stock. His theory was reinforced by the fact Minister Broten announced the ban on the front steps of Ontario re-refiner Safety-Kleen’s head office.

“Banning the burning of used oil supports re-refining, reduces demand for new oil and encourages economic development in the environmental sector,” Broten announced at Safety-Kleen’s Breslau, Ontario offices. “It’s clearly the right move for the environment.”

The move is expected to increase the amount of used oil re-refined by Safety-Kleen by seven million litres per year. But Lugowski says the policy is misguided.

He pointed out the ban will result in more transportation-related emissions created when trucking the used oil to re-refiners as well as the inevitable spills that are bound to occur. He also said re-refineries can only recover about 70% of used oil while waste oil heaters successfully convert 100% of the oil into heat.

Also, “Fuel furnaces will put out more CO2 because furnace fuel has similar emissions as used oil but the heat value is lower so you have to burn more of it,” he added.

Trucking companies are among the biggest users of waste oil furnaces. With each oil change producing about 40 litres of used oil, it seems natural that fleets would be interested in burning that waste oil for heat in the winter. Now, Lugowski says they will face additional heating costs of $6,000-$7,000 per year – and that’s for a small shop.

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) is one of 21 groups that has opposed the ban. In a submission to the Environment Ministry, the OTA said the ban was announced “without any public consultation and without the provision of any supporting research.”

The OTA went on to say “We are unaware of any recent scientific research, smokestack testing etc. that supports this policy change, unless there is evidence available to the government which you will not or can not share with stakeholders.”

The EPA endorses the burning of waste oil in approved furnaces and some jurisdictions even provide incentives for companies that use waste oil space heaters. Manitoba and Alberta, for instance, provide an 8 cents-per-litre incentive for companies that use their waste oil as a source of heat and other regions waive the sales tax on the furnaces, Lugowski pointed out.

“We’re concerned this is being done for political reasons and not sound environmental reasons,” Doug Switzer, manager of government relations with the OTA told Truck News.

The OTA is further frustrated by the fact the province continued issuing permits to burn waste oil right up to its surprise announcement banning the practice.

“Some carriers, the ones that are most frustrated, aren’t the guys who put in systems 10 years ago,” said Switzer. “The Ministry was issuing permits for these things right up to Christmas of last year. These people have put big money into these systems and at the last minute the rug is being pulled out from under them. This came out of the blue for everybody – nobody knew this was where they were going with this.”

The OTA is calling on the province to extend the grandfather clause for current systems beyond June, 2009 and to provide scientific evidence the heaters are harmful to the environment.

“If a case can be proven that these things are emitting dangerous toxins into the environment, we wouldn’t argue,” Switzer said. “But they haven’t proven there’s anything harmful. If they’re so bad, why has the ministry been allowing them for years? Up until December they were happily issuing permits for them. No other jurisdiction has banned them. I have a lot of questions concerning the validity of this.”

Further frustrating waste oil heater users is the fact the environmental benefits the province says will be achieved by phasing out waste oil furnaces are based on converting to wind and solar-powered heating systems.

“That’s ridiculous,” blasts Lugowski. “Nobody’s going to do that. That’s the misleading stuff that really bothers me about this – nobody is going to convert to solar power for their truck shop or wind heating. It’s just not feasible.”

Meanwhile, over at Challenger’s head office in Cambridge, Ont., company president Dan Einwechter says the ban is so asinine he’s tempted to simply ignore it altogether.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said of the ban. ” We spent a tremendous amount of money to put our facilities in and it was well thought-out. We would never have put it in if we had to get our waste oil trucked away. We’re going to fight it tooth and nail. And I’m not sure I’d be prepared to cease my activity. I’m tempted to just keep burning it and see what happens.”

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