The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that California is increasing the minimum penalties for late-night thieves who stalk back alleys behind restaurants in search of a quick payday in the form of an unlikely hot commodity — used cooking oil. The quest for U.S. energy independence and more renewable fuels has transformed ordinary kitchen grease from a nuisance into a cash cow whose theft can be stubbornly difficult to trace.
The oil currently fetches about $1.55 per gallon, and often higher market prices, as a feedstock for biodiesel. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign legislation this month to increase oversight of the supply chain for recycled kitchen grease and apply stiffer minimum penalties for thieves, starting at $1,000 against first-time offenders. Backers of the legislation hope harsher penalties, along with new provisions for inspections and record keeping, will translate into more action by law enforcement and prosecutors. About 30 cooking oil cases have resulted in either formal legal action or referral to local law enforcement officials in the past two years.