AUGUSTA (AP) – Donna Kenney picked the right time to get an oil change, and she didn’t even know it.

The Augusta resident went to a Prompto quick-lube a few blocks from the State House just a few days before a new law imposes $1 fees on each oil change. Like other motorists and service station managers, Kenney didn’t know about the law, but seems resigned to it.

“Nobody likes taxes, period,” Kenney said as she waited for attendants to finish servicing her vehicle at a Prompto center. “But what are you going to do?”

The new fees, which take effect today, were imposed by the Legislature earlier this year to help to pay for cleanups of four former waste-oil sites in the state.

For standard-sized cars and light trucks, the fees to be paid at service stations, including chain garages that specialize in lube jobs, will be $1 per oil change. The fee will be $2 for vehicles with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds to 25,999 pounds, and $3 on those with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds or more. Fleets that do in-house maintenance won’t escape, either. They’ll be assessed per-vehicle fees.

The law levying the fees was approved as lawmakers sought funding to complete cleanups of former waste oil storage sites in Plymouth, Presque Isle, Ellsworth and Casco. The Portland-Bangor Waste Oil Services sites became contaminated decades ago after oil and solvents mixed with it leaked into the earth.

Lawmakers were told that some of the pollution occurred when workers at the site opened valves in the morning to drain water that had collected overnight, but neglected to shut them before contaminants flowed into the ground, said state Rep. Ted Koffman, who co-chairs the Natural Resources Committee.

State policy calls for contaminated sites to be cleaned up with money collected from those whose waste contributed to the pollution.

Many of the contributors’ businesses had been sold, gone bankrupt, passed to succeeding generations or closed, said Koffman, D-Bar Harbor.

Moreover, the businesses had been assured that the oil they were dropping off was being disposed of properly, Koffman said.

While many of the waste oil company’s customers did contribute to cleanups that have been under way for years, lawmakers decided to move ahead with a more aggressive program to get the job done.

“We just didn’t want it to go on forever,” Koffman said.

The legislation authorizing oil-change fees creates a $35 million fund to pay for preparation and cleanup at the four sites. The Finance Authority of Maine will issue revenue bonds to cover these costs, and the bonds will be retired with funds from the new fees.

While few take issue with efforts to clean up polluted sites, an oil-change business with 16 Maine sites disapproves of the process through which the fees were imposed.

“It’s unfortunate that we were not given a chance to give our opinion” before the law was enacted, said Kevin King, operations manager for the Westbrook-based Prompto Inc., which also has five sites in New Hampshire. King also believes consumers were not given ample opportunity to voice their views on the law.

King said his customers will see an increase in oil-change prices because Prompto, which has already weathered sharp increases in oil prices, can’t afford to absorb the new state fees.

“We’re not in a position where we can eat a dollar per car,” King said. He said customers will see posters at company sites explaining reasons for the fees.

AP-ES-09-30-07 1258EDT

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