California’s UST cleanup funds have dried up

California’s State Water Resources Control Board oversees the implementation of some of the country’s strictest environmental regulations, including those that govern the inspection, monitoring, removal, and cleanup of underground storage tanks. The only problem is that the cash-strapped state doesn’t have enough money in its Barry Keene Underground Storage Tank Cleanup Fund to cover all the UST work in progress.

According to the North Bay Business Journal, many businesses in the San Francisco Bay area with leaking USTs in their charge are not being reimbursed for the mandatory removal and cleanup of the toxic leaking tanks. UST removal and cleanup is normally an expensive undertaking, easily costing tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the site and extent of environmental damage.

In Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties, a total of 552 leaking USTs have some form of open claim for cleanup work being performed. The claims represent work in various stages of completion. Most of the leaking tanks are in Sonoma County, which has 414 according to the state water board’s records. Marin County has 83 leaking tanks, and Napa has 56.

The water board had to suspend some 1,300 claims earlier this year because of an $80 million shortage in the fund. For active claims, the board decided to delay reimbursements by 18 months. The shortage has put a severe strain on many companies that do not have the capital or financial resources available to comply with the state’s codes without the government’s help. Companies with cleanup work in progress whose claims have been suspended are seeking bridge financing for work until the state’s funds are replenished.

One Eureka-based environmental project manager told the North Bay Business Journal that the lack of UST cleanup funds is having a ripple effect on his industry. “The slowdown in tank cleanup reimbursement affects not only site owners and but also the flow of work for environmental consulting firms and the subcontractors they work with, such as analytical laboratories and well drillers,” the Business Journal reported.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST), California has a backlog of nearly 11,500 leaking tanks awaiting cleanup. Even the slowest leaking tanks can release several gallons of fuel and other hazardous substances into the surrounding land each year, polluting millions of gallons of water and tons of soil.

The water board is currently assembling a task force comprised of environmental consultants, tank owners and operators, and regional water board members that will explore ways to reform and hopefully fix the state’s depleted UST fund.