$12B Price Tag to Clean Up Fuel Leaks

WASHINGTON -- The public will pay about $12 billion to clean up nearly half of the 117,000 leaking underground fuel storage tanks nationwide, Congress' Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported last week.

Fuel tanks underneath gas retailers, which hold thousands of gallons of fuel, have sprung leaks and are polluting the soil and underground drinking water supplies, Forbes reported. Remedying the problem will take years, the GAO estimated in a report requested by Representative John Dingell, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Following the survey of states, the GAO reported that $12 billion in public funds would be needed to clean up 54,000 locations that have leaks. Tank owners are responsible for paying to clean up the remaining 63,000 other leaks, but some owners lack enough insurance coverage to pay such a bill, the GAO found.

Dingell told Forbes the federal government has been too slow to utilize the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, a federal cleanup fund created in 1986 to assist state cleanup efforts. The pool is funded by a tenth-of-a-cent per gallon federal tax on gasoline, and will reach $3 billion at the end of the 2008 fiscal year, the report stated.

However, the 2007 White House budget requests $72.4 million for the cleanup, despite generating $197 million in 2006 and $99 million in interest, according to Dingell.

"This report shows the gross inadequacy and disgraceful nature of President Bush's most recent budget request," Dingell said, warning that inaction "places human health and the environment at an increased risk."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees the cleanup program, estimates that individual site cleanups cost an average $125,000. The EPA and states have spent more than $10 billion over 20 years to clean up spills but more than 100,000 spills have not yet been cleaned up, the report stated.

The cost to clean up other sites in the future could rise significantly, the GAO found. States were unable to estimate costs for 8,000 sites, and 43 states expected to find almost 17,000 new releases over the next five years that would require public funds to clean up, the report stated.

Additional costs are incurred when a site contains methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a fuel additive and potential carcinogen that contaminates water supplies, making it undrinkable.