Students look to cut red tape on project
A science project that started in a shed on the campus of Oak Hall School in Gainesville might end up in the legislative chambers of the state Capitol in Tallahassee.
Four Oak Hall high school students, led by senior Erich Christian, have spent two years working on a project to process used vegetable oil into a biodiesel fuel capable of running lawn mowers and, possibly one day, the school’s buses.
As the students forged ahead with the development of their program, they encountered what they feel is a somewhat burdensome requirement of state law, which they believe could dissuade other students from pursuing similar biodiesel production products, even as the state looks for alternative energy initiatives to ween itself off fossil fuels.
So the science project now has turned into a crash course in politics, as Christian, 17, fellow senior Jeffrey Morris, 18, junior Maria Korah, 16, and sophomore Apurv Suman, 15, have begun lobbying lawmakers for a change in the law.
On Thursday, they had the ear of some heavy hitters as Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul and state Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Winter Garden, the new chairman of the House Energy and Utilities Policy Committee, visited Oak Hall.
Cretul said he could make no promises now, except that legislators would look into the law in question and see what public policy purpose, if any, it serves.
“I don’t know what we can do about this, but I tell you what we will do is start a discussion,” he said. “We’re going to go back and take a look.”
The students’ issue is with Florida Statute 206, which deals with biodiesel production and taxes on the fuel paid to the state Department of Revenue.
Christian said that, under the law, schools such as Oak Hall must fill out and submit to the state monthly production reports and pay taxes to the state, but then receive back a tax rebate. Students feel that is a cumbersome, bureaucratic process that could be an obstacle in expanding biodiesel production to other schools.
“It’s a waste of time, effort and money, and it’s a demotivator for kids like this,” Precourt said.
Precourt said students should be “lauded” for efforts to produce sources of alternative energy and that instead, the Oak Hall contingent has encountered the “dark side” of government – paperwork and red tape.
The students also have lobbied local legislators state Sen. Steve Oelrich R-Cross Creek, and state Rep. Charles Chestnut, D-Gainesville.
Cretul said the next move might be inviting the students to Tallahassee to make a presentation to legislators during the next session.
By Christopher Curry
The Gainesville Sun