Fuel marketers say there is a good chance the White House will sign into law this fall a Senate proposal that accelerates underground storage tank cleanups. That could in turn help alleviate persistent public worries over groundwater contaminated by the clean-fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee July 25 unanimously approved the Underground Storage Tanks Compliance Act of 2002. Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) introduced the legislation in February but revised it to receive key backing from Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), chairman of the committee, and panel member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
The Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America called it "the first major tank bill in over a decade."
The bill gives states a freer hand when they use federal money to clean up leaking tanks and directs lawmakers to earmark more money for cleanups: $125 million/year is targeted for MTBE. The measure also forces states to physically inspect all regulated tanks at least once every 2 years.
States already receive federal funds annually out of the Environmental Protection Agency's Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund, financed by a 0.1¢/gal tax on motor fuel.
The new proposal authorizes $330 million/year from the fund, which now has a balance of nearly $2 billion and is currently adding $97 million/year in taxes and $113 million/year in interest, according to SIGMA.
The General Accounting Office in May 2001 said EPA's program needed "prompt improvement" by increasing inspection frequency, giving the agency and states more enforcement authority, training tank operators, and closing or upgrading the 30,000 tanks now violating federal clean water standards.
Marketers say the Senate bill addresses most of those issues. Under the bill, there is more money from the LUST Trust Fund to the states. That will allow LUST Trust Fund money to be used for better enforcement of tougher 1998 tank rules. There also is stepped-up enforcement against government-owned tanks.
"Giving states the authority to take enforcement actions against noncompliant government tanks is a huge step in the right direction," said Petroleum Marketers Association of America Pres. Dan Gilligan. "PMAA has long believed that many of the environmental problems that are attributed to underground tanks stem from the large number of noncompliant government tanks."
Marketers also want to be reimbursed for cleanups through the trust fund, but that proposal did not have enough committee support. Industry observers said that issue could again be addressed as Congress finalizes a separate energy reform bill, which also contains MTBE cleanup provisions. The Senate version authorizes $200 million for MTBE cleanup in the upcoming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 and $2.5 billion for related efforts (including transition assistance for US-located MTBE merchant producers). It also phases out the additive, although state exemptions are possible. The House version does not ban MTBE; it authorizes $200 million for cleanups.