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Iowa Targets Leaky Fuel Tanks

DES MOINES, Iowa -- State regulators and gasoline station operators are looking to resolve their lingering differences linked to cleaning up leaky underground tanks before a funding source dries up in 2016, reported the Quad-City Times.

Under a federally mandated effort begun 20 years ago, roughly 1,400 sites -- including approximately 750 considered high-risk -- still need clean-up action or monitoring and are among the most challenging and expensive to address, according to the report.
At issue is the need to protect people, water supplies and soil from contamination caused by petroleum tanks, primarily at gas stations, commercial sites and some school properties, while providing "closure" to property owners who have repaired, replaced, removed or taken other action to address faulty underground storage containers.

With a 1-cent-per-gallon state gas tax dedicated to the prevention, monitoring and clean-up effort slated to "sunset" in June 2016, state Department of Natural Resources officials, tank owners and petroleum marketers, groundwater professionals and the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Board and its administrative staff are working to establish goals, milestones and accountable results aimed at reducing the remaining contaminated sites while there are adequate resources to deal with the backlog, according to the Times.

To date, nearly $250 million has been spent on testing and the remediation of thousands of contaminated sites, many of them detected before Oct. 26, 1990, said Scott Scheidel, Iowa's underground storage tank fund administrator.

The report cited the impetus for Iowa's program is a federal requirement that forced states to begin cleaning leaky underground tanks -- many of which were abandoned -- that could threaten water supplies and pose risks of explosion or exposure to harmful fumes.

A 1988 federal law imposed technical and financial responsibility upon owners and operators of underground storage tanks. However, private insurance was unattainable at that time, so Iowa responded with a 1989 act that created a fund and an oversight board to help owners and operators who have to comply with Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Leaks detected before the October 1990 threshold were eligible for help from the state fund, which was bolstered by the penny diminution fee on gasoline and diesel fuel sales to underwrite the state insurance pool, bonding authority and multimillion-dollar settlements with major oil companies that were responsible for a number of leaking tanks, said the report.

State lawmakers required underground tank owners to carry liability insurance, to upgrade or equip their new and existing tanks with leak-guard systems and to report tank failures.

One state environmental regulator attributed the tank legislation with helping to modernize Iowa's fuel-delivery system. However, she also pointed out the new rules caused a number of small, independent service station owners and operators to quit the business in the face of increased financial and regulatory requirements.

Jeff Hove, vice president of the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa, told the Times the program has been effective at addressing an environmental concern, but the time has come to end some ongoing monitoring and over-regulation of sites that are low-risk or not in need of further action to provide some certainty to the industry.

Hove was reported to be hopeful but less optimistic that the new look at stalemated issues mired in mistrust and long-term disagreements would dramatically reduce the backlog of unresolved cases without some type of legislative impetus for change.

"We can talk until we're blue in the face and paint rosy pictures and everybody's on the bandwagon, but as soon as it leaves the building, people are jumping off and it never gets done," he said.

Hove said he is opposed to recommendations made by a consultant hired by Gov. Chet Culver to find efficiencies in state government that called for eliminating the UST Board and administrator and redirecting money so DNR officials would administer the program in the future. The move was projected to save the state $4 million over five years.

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