Leaking Storage Tanks

Yesterday the legislature moved forward SB 181. This legislation shifts the cost of cleaning up toxic spills from leaking storage tanks from the responsible party to the public (gas taxes).

Currently, clean-ups are funded by tank fees paid by underground tank owners and public gas taxes. SB 181 would allow above ground tanks to be eligible for the funds. Currently, those operators have to pay for their own clean-up. It also does not require above ground tank operators to pay into the fund.

By expanding the universe of tank owners who could tap into the fund without requiring all sources to pay into the fund, there would be even less money available to clean up groundwater contamination. While the bill does not explicitly shift the costs to the motoring public through the gas tax, it's hard to see where else the clean-up funds would come from.

SB 181 also makes risk-based assessment available to all petroleum spills (not just those from underground tanks). Risk based assessment allows a lower level of clean-up. Basically, a certain level of contamination is allowed to exist at varying levels depending on the future use of the site. By failing to hold the responsible party fully accountable, the total clean-up costs are eventually passed on to the tax-payer.

Though there are many sites remaining to be cleaned up, the North Carolina LUST program --for all its shortcomings-- has resulted in the clean up of thousands of sites over the years and reduced the frequency and severity of new spills. It has also paid to provide families with alternate sources of drinking water when their wells are impaired. SB 181 puts this program at risk.

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