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Tax-free Diesel Fraud Costs Colorado Taxpayers

November 13, 2008

Colorado is doing little to monitor use of tax-free diesel — an area other states have found ripe for fraud, The Denver Post reported.

Well over 220 million gallons of tax-free diesel is pumped into Colorado gas tanks each year. Since the start of 2001, that has amounted to $707 million in exempted federal and state taxes.

The fuel, dyed red to show it doesn’t include the 44.9-cent state and federal per-gallon taxes other users pay, is meant for certain off-road vehicles, mainly in farm and construction equipment, but finds its way into trucks owned by farmers and by oil and gas workers Colorado ’s dyed diesel enforcement focuses audits on fuel distributors, who are not required to reveal who they sell their tax-free fuel to unless audited, and spot-checks on commercial trucks. In the past year, revenue agents dipped dye-detecting sticks into 20,608 commercial trucks and cited 23 for illegally using dyed diesel.

Attempts to enforce the law have met with complications. Law enforcement authorities don’t do checks for dyed diesel as it is complicated and costly to prove in court. They believe the IRS should enforce this law, citing that it is a tax-evasion issue. 

However, the revenue agencies point to back law enforcement agencies. Targeting only the topics they think are most costly to state taxpayers, they don’t see dyed diesel as one of them. 

The Federal Highway Administration estimates national diesel-tax evasion losses have surpassed $4 billion annually. That's up from an estimate of $800 million in 1995. The U.S. Department of Transportation puts the losses at between $1 billion and $10 billion annually. 

Large quantities of available untaxed diesel have led to evasion schemes from criminals, who resell untaxed diesel at a taxed rate. Schemes include chemically removing the dye and making sure the dye doesn’t inject into the fuel. Others sell the dyed fuel to nonqualified users who don’t mind that it’s illegal.

In 2004, a Denver man was convicted of reselling tax-free diesel at a taxed rate, pocketing $14 million in taxes, according to The Denver Post.

Coordinated efforts in other states have been more successful in diesel tax enforcement. In the past year, fuel-fraud officers in Arizona have pulled in $3 million in taxes that evaders had tried to avoid. Another $226,000 was collected in penalties. Roadside crackdowns elsewhere have snagged drivers with red fuel in their Mercedeses or pickups.


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  1. 1. Jeff K [ August 19, 2013 @ 07:04AM ]

    Seriously "losses"....these are government taxes that are going unpaid! When people aren't having to pay a tax on diesel there is an enormous automatic boon to the economy. The real "losses" would take place if Colorado ever starts taxing that diesel. I believe the entire nation should have a federal mandate of TAX FREE diesel. "Losses" for the governments coffers are "gains" for the working mans pocket book so I say this program of tax free diesel should be implemented nationally. Also, if diesel is in fact that much more fuel efficient AND the tax were removed entirely, just much economic activity could we INSTANTLY spur just be removing this one tax nationwide? People would flock to owning diesel cars all over the country to undercut rising gasoline (less efficient) costs.

  2. 2. Jace [ November 15, 2017 @ 09:37AM ]

    It’s impossible that $220 million worth of diesel is pumped into gas tanks each year. That amount of diesel going into vehicles designed to run on gasoline would definitely be showing a higher number of mechanical problems. Vehicles with “gas tanks” are not meant to function on diesel, this would cause them to run terrible at best, and likely not run at all. I’ve not noticed a lot of people pumping diesel into their gas tanks. Although it’s possible people are mistakenly using diesel in their gas tanks, it’s not possible $220 million is going to gasoline vehicles..
    Most died diesel pump nozzles are to large to fit in a gasoline tank orifice, they could be using a funnels but not likely.

    However it is possible that a number as high as 220 million is being used illegally on the highway in diesel vehicles.


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