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Friday, May 28, 2010

Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (USTs): Prevention and Cleanup

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

To address a nationwide water pollution problem caused by leaking underground storage tanks (USTs), Congress authorized a leak prevention, detection, and cleanup program in 1984, under Subtitle I of the Solid Waste Disposal Act. In 1986, Congress established the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund to provide a source of funds to support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states in remediating leaks from petroleum USTs. The LUST Trust Fund is funded primarily through a 0.1 cent-per-gallon motor fuels tax. Historically, EPA and states primarily have used LUST fund appropriations to oversee LUST cleanup activities by responsible parties and to clean up sites where owners fail to do so. 

Since the program began, the frequency and severity of releases from USTs have declined markedly. Through FY2009, cleanup had been initiated or completed at nearly 80% of the 488,000 confirmed release sites, while a backlog of some 100,000 contaminated sites remained. 

Despite much progress in the program, challenges have remained. A key issue has been that state resources have not met the demands of administering the UST leak prevention program. States have long sought larger appropriations from the trust fund to support the LUST cleanup program, and some also sought flexibility to use fund resources to administer and enforce the UST leak prevention program. Another issue has concerned the detection of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) in groundwater at many LUST sites and in some drinking water supplies. This gas additive was used widely to meet Clean Air Act requirements to reduce auto emissions. However, MTBE is very water-soluble, and, once released, it is more likely to reach water supplies and often is more costly to remediate than conventional gasoline leaks. 

In the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct; P.L. 109-58), the 109th Congress expanded the leak prevention provisions in the UST program, imposed new program responsibilities on EPA and states, and authorized use of the LUST Trust Fund for prevention as well as cleanup purposes. The law also repealed the Clean Air Act oxygenated fuel requirement that had prompted the extensive use of MTBE. In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA; P.L. 110- 140), the 110th Congress amended the Clean Air Act to authorize EPA to regulate fuels and fuel additives for the purpose of protecting water quality, as well as air quality. 

EISA also increased the renewable fuel standard (RFS), and an emerging issue concerns the compatibility of ethanol and biofuels with storage tank infrastructure. Ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline, and EPA estimates that half the tanks in the ground have not been tested for compatibility with ethanol blends greater than 10%. The RFS is likely to push blending beyond 10% in a few years. The concern is that a new wave of leaks could occur as the amount of ethanol in gasoline increases to meet the RFS. S. 1666 would direct EPA to allow the use of mid-level ethanol blends only after infrastructure compatibility and consumer safety issues are addressed. 

Congress has increased program funding since the enactment of EPAct. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L. 111-5) appropriated $200 million from the trust fund for the LUST cleanup program, and Congress provided another $112.6 million from the fund for cleanup and leak prevention and detection activities in regular FY2009 appropriations. For FY2010, in P.L. 111-88, Congress provided $113.1 million from the fund, including $78.7 million for LUST cleanup activities, and $34.4 million for UST leak prevention, detection, and other program responsibilities added by the EPAct. The Administration has requested similar amounts for FY2011. This report reviews UST and LUST programs and related issues and developments.

Date of Report: May 18, 2010
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: RS21201
Price: $29.95

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