Regulatory Developments

Used Oil Bill Signed into Law

On December 21, 2018, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 1733, a law that will renew and somewhat modify preexisting statutory language regarding the beneficial reuse of used lubricating oil.

Motor Oil

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Titled Energy Savings from Lubricating Oil, the law directs that within 1 year after enactment, the secretary of Energy, in cooperation with the EPA and Office of Management and Budget, will review and update a report originally ordered by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The 2005 law directed the Energy secretary and the EPA to undertake a study of the energy and environmental benefits of re-refining used lubricating oil and report to Congress within 90 days with recommendations for specific steps that can be taken to improve the collection of used lubricating oil and increase re-refining and other beneficial reuse of such oil.

In addition to providing substantially more time to conduct the study, the new law directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to:

  • Consult with relevant federal, state, and local agencies and affected industry and stakeholder groups to update data that were used in preparing the original report.
  • Prepare and submit to Congress a coordinated federal strategy to increase the beneficial reuse of used lubricating oil that is consistent with national policy as established pursuant to Section 2 of the Used Oil Recycling Act of 1980 and that addresses measures needed to:
    • Increase the responsible collection of used oil.
    • Disseminate public information concerning sustainable reuse options for used oil.
    • Promote sustainable reuse of used oil by federal agencies, recipients of federal grant funds, entities contracting with the federal government, and the general public.

EPA’s Perspective

Under 40 CFR 279, the EPA defines used oil as “any oil that has been refined from crude oil, or any synthetic oil, that has been used and as a result of such use is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities.” The Agency does not classify such oil as a hazardous waste, although there are certain requirements regarding containers holding the used oil and their labeling and storage. Some states do classify used oil as hazardous, and any generator of used oil must determine whether the material is subject to requirements above and beyond the EPA’s that apply in a specific state.

According to the Agency, the “many reasons” to reuse and recycle used oil include:

  • Recycling used oil keeps it from polluting soil and water.
  • Motor oil does not wear out—it just gets dirty—so recycling it saves a valuable resource.
  • Less energy is required to produce a gallon of re-refined base stock than a base stock from crude oil.
  • One gallon (gal) of used motor oil provides the same 2.5 quarts of lubricating oil as 42 gal of crude oil.

“Re-refined oil must meet the same stringent refining, compounding, and performance standards as virgin oil for use in automotive, heavy-duty diesel, and other internal combustion engines, and hydraulic fluids and gear oils. Extensive laboratory testing and field studies conclude that re-refined oil is equivalent to virgin oil, passes all prescribed tests and, in some situations, even outperforms virgin oil,” says the EPA.

A Valuable Resource

As noted, one intent of the new bill is to continue the policy established in Section 2 of the Used Oil Recycling Act of 1980, in which Congress declared that:

  • Used oil is a valuable source of increasingly scarce energy and materials.
  • Technology exists to re-refine, reprocess, reclaim, and otherwise recycle used oil.
  • Used oil constitutes a threat to public health and the environment when reused or disposed of improperly, and therefore, it is in the national interest to recycle used oil in a manner that does not constitute a threat to public health and the environment and that conserves energy and materials.

Those declarations remain essentially true and applicable today.

Stronger Role for Congress?

H.R. 1733 was sponsored by Rep. Susan W. Brooks (R-IN), who responded to the president’s signature of the bill with the following statement:

“I am proud the president signed this bipartisan bill into law because having an up-to-date report of the energy and environmental benefits of re-refined lubricating oil will help Congress work with the private sector to ensure we are responsibly and safely helping to reduce waste and benefit American consumers while protecting the environment.”

Information on H.R. 1733 is here.