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    S.C. Gas Tax Up for Debate

    Half-cent increase will go toward cleaning leaking fuel tanks.

    CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Gas prices in the state may rise a half-cent higher, as the House of Representatives is set to debate whether to raise South Carolina's gasoline tax to fund its underground storage tank cleanup effort, McClatchy Newspapers reported.

    A committee in the House overwhelmingly voted earlier this week to approve the half-cent on the dollar tax increase, as the state is falling behind in its efforts to clean up more than 3,000 leaking fuel tanks. If the tax were to pass, it could double cleanup funds to about $34 million, the report stated.

    Even though the half-cent tax increase will not break the average driver's bank, legislators are wary of increasing taxes while prices remain high. The current average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in the state is $2.37, according to AAA. This concern was raised in the House committee meeting, and will be amplified when the tax comes to a vote on the House floor.

    However, one representative, Mac Toole (R-Lexington), said there's no guarantee that raising the gasoline tax will translate to an improved cleanup effort, adding that he has been unimpressed with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and wants to know how the organization will use the money.

    "I hate to see us just spend more and more money, and five years from now, we're still where we are at now," he said. "The easiest thing in the world is for us to come in here and say we need to throw more money at an issue."

    In addition, residents could find it difficult to accept the gas to increase because it will not fund the improvement of roads, said Representative Laurie Funderburk, (D-Kershaw).

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is putting pressure on the state to hasten its cleanup progress. If more money does not arrive to assist the efforts, the EPA could take action by raising insurance rates for gas stations and convenience stores.

    South Carolina's underground storage tank cleanup effort is one of the 10 least effective programs in the count, according to the EPA.

    "This ... needs to be addressed in South Carolina," said Representative Jeff Duncan (R-Laurens). "Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal, it doesn't matter. EPA is going to come in and force it down our throats if we don't do it."

    Out of more than 3,000 leaking tank sites, 396 are considered emergencies by the DHEC, according to Duncan.

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