Michigan Struggles With UST Clean Up

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Michigan Struggles With UST Clean Up

LANSING, Mich. -- Two decades after the c-store industry made huge investments to clean up leaking underground storage tanks (UST), Michigan petroleum marketers are dealing with one of the country's largest backlogs of leaking USTs, and can't expect much help, even from the federal stimulus program, according to an Associated Press report.

Michigan has more than 9,000 leaking USTs at approximately 7,500 sites, ranking it third behind Florida and California. New leaks at industrial sites and gas stations are being discovered as fast as the existing ones are fixed, the report noted, leaving drinking water and rivers at risk from fuel and other pollutants.

The federal stimulus program is pumping $200 million into the leaking tank cleanup program nationwide. Michigan's share, approximately $7.2 million, will help clean up a few sites.

"That's almost an insignificant amount of money," James Clift of the Michigan Environmental Council, told The Associated Press. "It will help in a limited way on a few projects. But it's really a reminder the state needs to reinvigorate that program."

Michigan officials expect to spend roughly $20 million on its UST tank cleanup program this fiscal year, not counting the stimulus money.

Environmentalists and state officials estimate it will cost at least $1 billion more, or up to $175 million annually—for about a decade to remediate all of the sites. The leaking tanks are in every Michigan county, leaching gasoline, kerosene, used oil or diesel fuel into the soil, the report noted. Some of the leaks were first reported in the 1980s.

The sites are largely owned by manufacturers, gas stations, grocery stores or governments. But cleanup efforts often are complicated because a site can be orphaned, leaving no one clearly responsible to help pay for the cleanup.

"We need to do something to go out, find the worst sites and clean them up," Clift said.

Nearly 300 leak sites are cleaned up in Michigan in a typical year, roughly the same number of leaks newly detected annually.

"We're not making much progress, is the bottom line," said Robert McCann, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, told the AP.

Michigan's tank cleanup program is funded with a tax equaling 0.875 of a cent per gallon of gasoline, equaling approximately $50 million a year.

However, some of that money is used to pay off debt on other pollution cleanup bonds, such as the Clean Michigan Initiative. Also, state leaders have occasionally raided the fund to help pay for other programs during a time of large budget deficits. This fiscal year, Michigan's budget shortfall is expected to reach $785 million.

Environmental groups suggest collecting more money for the fund by raising the state's gasoline tax by about 1.1 cents a gallon, adding roughly $70 million per year to the fund. The idea is unlikely to gain any support.

Most of the state's 19 cents per gallon gas tax pays for road repairs.

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