Because of tough economic times, legislators must decide on even more budget cuts. “People don’t think much about this, but there are tanks with 10,000 gallons of fuel underneath the ground near our groundwater. Who is watching them?” asks Jeffrey Halsey, president of Florida Local Environmental Resources Agencies (FLERA). “We want to emphasize to the state not to cut this very important program that helps to keep our water clean,” he added.
Prior to 2011, about 10 million from the Inland Protection Trust Fund was spent to inspect underground storage tanks (USTs) annually. Last year, funding was cut to $7 million and inspections reduced to every other year. For 2013, only $5.9 million has been proposed for USTs inspections.
Releases from USTs caused by spills, overfills or leaking tanks and piping can cause fires or explosions that threaten human safety. Benzene and other chemicals found in petroleum products have been shown to cause cancer.
Even today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Florida has more sites contaminated with petroleum than any other state. In Florida, there are over 15,450 contaminated sites, including over 2,800 in the Tampa Bay Region.
The Inland Protection Trust Fund was created in 1986 to pay for the cleanup of petroleum contaminated sites and prevent future spills. Today drivers are charged about four cents a gallon-for a total of about $133 million a year-to clean up contaminated sites and prevent leaks.
Last year $8 million of the funds collected for tank inspections was taken by the state legislature to help balance the state’s budget. “As FLERA, our legislative policy is that the money that is collected at the gas pump for inspection and cleanup should not be used for any other purpose”, said Rick Tschantz, director of legal and administration at the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPCHC) and former FLERA President.
While legislation in the early 1990’s required gas stations to install double walled tanks to reduce leaks, 10 of 19 discharges in Hillsborough County last year were from double-walled systems, according to EPCHC. “When you reduce oversight and compliance inspections, you increase risk. Anytime you increase risk, we are concerned”, said Hooshang Boostani director of waste management at EPCHC.
As the Legislature considers its options this March, officials urge residents to contact their local legislative delegation to raise awareness of the importance of underground storage tank inspection funding.
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