By Paige Anderson
In July, the House of Representatives passed legislation to fund the Highway Trust Fund through May 2015. Without the additional monies, the fund would run out of money by Labor Day. While House and Senate transportation committees work on a long-term authorization bill, the temporary “patch” was needed to continue funding our roads until that effort is finished.
While the bicameral and bipartisan effort is admirable, a small provision in the patch affects the fuel retailing industry — and not in a good way. One of the sources of revenue to temporarily fund the Highway Trust Fund is a transfer of $1 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund.
The Back Story
In 1984, Congress responded to the problem of leaking underground storage tanks (UST) and its potential threat to groundwater by requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a comprehensive regulatory program for USTs and the storing of petroleum and certain hazardous substances to protect the environment and human health from possible UST leaks.
To implement and fund this program, Congress established the LUST Trust Fund in 1986 to oversee cleanups by the responsible parties, enforce clean-ups by recalcitrant parties and pay for cleanups at sites where the owner or operator is unknown or unable to respond. The LUST Trust Fund is financed by a 0.1-cent tax on each gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel sold.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 focused on the prevention of releases and leaks by establishing new requirements for states and tank owners to ensure that all underground storage tanks are held to the same standards and to enhance compliance with federal regulations. These new requirements included onsite inspections of every tank once every three years, training for tank operators, full compliance of tanks located on government and tribal lands, and the closure of tanks found to be non-compliant with the regulations.
Since 1984, more than 1.8 million underground storage tanks have been closed. As of March 2014, this program regulates approximately 575,000 active underground storage tanks at nearly 212,000 sites. Almost 85% of active tanks are in compliance for release prevention requirements and 80% of active tanks are in operational compliance for leak detection requirements.
Part of the success of this program can be attributed to NACS efforts to ensure adequate funds are appropriated to the LUST Trust Fund. Without adequate funding, the existing backlog of cleanups (more than 75,000 cleanups have not been completed) will increase and enforcement and prevention programs will be at risk.
The problem of adequate funding for the LUST program is not due to a lack of money coming into the federal coffers. The 0.10-cent per gallon of motor fuels tax is more than enough — however, not all of the funds collected into the Trust Fund are spent on the program.
House and Senate Appropriations committees have consistently underfunded this program. In the past, Congress has appropriated less than $100 million from the Trust Fund for cleanup and prevention, though there have been a few “generous” fiscal years at $105 million, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) did include a one-time supplemental appropriation of $200 million from the LUST Trust Fund to EPA for cleanups.
For fiscal year 2015, it looks like Congress will again fund the program at around $100 million, yet new revenues collected for the LUST Trust Fund this year are estimated to be $190 million and the Trust Fund balance is currently at $1.4 billion.
Other committees also raid and divert dollars from the LUST Trust Fund to other government programs, such as the Highway Trust Fund. In the last Congress, NACS successfully stopped a proposal to permanently siphon off 30% of future revenues of the LUST Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund. However, Congress transferred $2 billion in the last short-term highway funding bill and it looks like it will be successful in transferring another $1 billion this year.
NACS will continue to oppose efforts that raid the LUST Trust Fund and will continue to support using these funds for the purpose they were intended — the prevention, enforcement and cleanup of leaking underground storage tanks.