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The end of an era at Confer Plastics: Our last gas tanks

We are coming to the end of an era at Confer Plastics. We are on our last production run of fuel tanks…ever. We’ve been making gas tanks since the early-1970s, so why will be making them no longer?

Bob Confer answers that question in this week’s installment of his column for the local newspapers. Here it is…
Only government could mess up the gas tank
by Bob Confer
Have you purchased a portable fuel tank for your garage or boat in recent years and wondered why they are, respectively, such pieces of garbage or so expensive?
You can’t help but be frustrated with what has happened to the once-simple gas can.
The modern no-spill units you use to fuel up your mower, chainsaw or ATV are anything but no-spill, as the clumsy spouts and necks lead to immeasurable amounts of wasted gas ending up on your power equipment and garage floor. You likely approach the same gas cans with trepidation because they look like bloated little powder kegs ready to explode on hot summer days because they are no longer manufactured with vents.
Then there’s those portable tanks that come in a variety of sizes for your fishing boat. They could be purchased for under $30 prior to 2011. Now, they come in at $50 to $80.
The mark-ups don’t end there. Consider what became of the fuel tanks that you don’t make direct purchases of, such as those built into your equipment. The newer tanks and accompanying hoses and accessories have add $50 to the cost of push mowers and $100 to riding mowers over the past decade. Those same changes added $280 to the cost of an outboard engine and $360 to jet skis.
Don’t blame manufacturers for this.
Blame the government.
It all started with the California Air Resource Board and their purported efforts to save the environment which in the case of CARB is always done with truly-ridiculous regulations that micromanage the minutia of consumerism.
CARB somehow got it in their heads that fuel tanks and power equipment not only contribute to global warming when they’re open or running, but also when they are not. They believe that plastic tanks and hoses breathe incredible amounts of gas fumes to the air on a non-stop basis.
Cans might pass gas through a vented cap or a loose-fitting nozzle, so that’s what forced CARB to call for non-vented tanks that use self-closing spouts that require you to clumsily flick a lever to open them. Never mind that all those fumes still escape every time you open your gas can to fill it or put the spout back into the tank for safe transportation and storage.
That rule was bad enough. Then CARB analyzed the gas molecules that might gradually work their way through the walls of the tanks or the bodies of the hose. CARB became adamant that those ultra-microscopic particles are killing the atmosphere so they required tanks be made with molded-in barriers or special materials to prevent permeation that was already negligible to begin with.
Sadly, the Environmental Protection Agency ate this up and decided to introduce similar standards at the federal level for gas cans, mowers and watercraft beginning in 2011 which accounts for the ridiculous and pricy changes you’ve encountered.
At my factory, we’ve lost business in a few waves because we didn’t have the technology necessary to meet these crazy regulations.
In 2010, we made the last of our portable fuel tanks for marine use. The production of those tanks kept 8 people busy for three-quarters of the year.
That same year, fuel tank business for lawn mower manufacturers also tanked for us. We were making more than 60,000 mower tanks a year. Once the law went into effect, our customers’ tanks could be used only for aftermarket repairs of old mowers and production dropped to only 2% of what it was.
This week officially marks the end of an era for us at Confer Plastics as we will be making the very last of those aftermarket items. We had been making gas tanks since the early-1970s. Going forward, we’ll never make one again.
We could have stayed in the gas can business, but it would have required a $4 million investment in a high-tech multi-layered machine necessary to make them. There are far better ways to invest such money and we certainly couldn’t have made such a purchase when those laws went into effect: We were in the throes of the recession, a truly scary time to do business.
Sometimes, with laws like these, you just need to sit back and ponder how oppressive – and stupid – governments can be.
Leave it to them to ruin the simple, basic red gas can.
Think about that the next time you spill gasoline all over your shoes and hands.