Bill to protect UST funds passes Illinois House

Back in March we talked about how the money in Illinois’ Underground Storage Tank Fund was being spent for other purposes under the Blagojevich administration, leaving some businesses that performed extensive (and expensive) tank cleanup work for the state high and dry. Now state representative John Cavaletto (R-Salem) has introduced a bill to the legislature that would protect the state’s UST fund from future sweeps and transfers. Illinois’ House bill 770 underscores the importance of maintaining a fund for UST cleanup.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency administers the UST Fund, which the agency established in 1989 to help tank owners and operators pay for cleanup of their leaking USTs. Even just the smallest hole in an underground tank can leak up to 400 gallons of fuel in one year, contaminating the surrounding soil and groundwater.

The more extensive the environmental contamination, the more it generally costs to clean the surrounding land. Cleanup costs can be prohibitively expensive for many private tank owners.

The state’s UST fund is sustained by a $0.003 per-gallon fuel tax and an $0.008 per-gallon environmental impact fee, which amounts to $60 per 7,500 gallons of fuel sold by vendors. The fund has paid out more than $800 million since its inception, but became effectively insolvent in recent years when the former governor used $54 million of its funds for other purposes.

Speaking on the House floor, Cavaleto said that sweeping money from the fund had hurt people who deserved compensation from it.

One such person is Jay Koch, the owner of United Science Industries, a company that the state contracted to clean up multiple LUST sites. The state of Illinois owes Koch nearly $20 million for work performed since 2007.

Mr. Koch, who testified to the committee in support of House Bill 770, spoke about how the depleted fund has put a strain on his company.

“It’s forced me to take on their debt,” Koch told the Mt. Vernon Register-News in March. “The state has forced their debts onto the balance sheet of business and small business. It’s very disheartening. Unlike a private party, who, if they fail to pay you, you have some recourse against, the way our state system is set up, we don’t have any recourse against the state. We’re forced to sit on the side and deal with whatever they throw at you. They don’t have to play by the same rules they set up for everyone else.”

Cavaletto’s bill has passed the Illinois House and will go before the Senate.