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History of the Federal Underground Storage Tank Program

Worker installing a huge underground fuel tank, aerial

The Federal Underground Storage Tank Program turns 40 this year. Let’s take a look back at the program’s beginnings, its changes and accomplishments along the way, and where it stands today. For help with UST installation, removal, servicing, or site remediation in New Jersey or Florida, contact the experts at Lutz Tanks for quality performance from experienced professionals you can trust.

1984 – Birth of a Federal Program

A 60 Minutes news segment in 1983 thrust underground storage tanks into the national conversation with a story about groundwater contaminated by petroleum leaking from a UST and its effect on residents of a Rhode Island town. The next year, Congress created the national underground storage tank program by adding Subtitle I to the Solid Waste Disposal Act. That law, first enacted in 1965, initially dealt with the disposal of solid waste in landfills by clarifying the responsibility of municipalities, promoting better technology, and establishing standards for waste management. The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to the law in 1984 began the era of regulation of underground storage tanks.

1985 – New Federal Program, New Federal Agency

Pursuant to the mandate to implement the UST program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created its Office of Underground Storage Tanks and began working with local governments to inspect tanks and oversee release cleanups.

1986 – Congress Clarifies Who Has Financial Responsibility for USTs: Owners and Operators

While amending and reauthorizing the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA aka Superfund), Congress created the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund. LUST included a 0.1 cent tax per gallon on motor fuel, with the proceeds paying for EPA responses to leaking USTs not cleaned up by owners or operators. At the same time, however, the law made it clear that owners and operators of USTs were financially responsible for the costs of corrective actions, including compensating third parties for property damage or injuries caused by leaking tanks.

1988 – The Birth of UST Regulations

As we noted last month (see UST Regulations: Then and Now, posted April 9, 2024), the EPA first established regulations regarding USTs in September 1988. According to the EPA, “The technical regulation required UST owners and operators to prevent leaks, detect leaks quickly, and clean up leaks quickly and safely.” Additionally, the EPA approved another regulation whereby state programs could be approved to operate in lieu of the federal program.

1990 – First State UST Program Approved

In July 1990, Mississippi became the first state to receive approval of its own UST program. Today, all but 11 states have approved UST programs. In states like New Jersey and Florida that do not have approved programs, UST owners and operators have to deal with two sets of statutes and regulations that may sometimes conflict with one another.

1993 – Updated Leak Detection Methods Required

In the summer of 1993, a National Work Group was formed to review third-party tests of UST leak detection evaluation methods. By the end of the year, all federally regulated USTs were required to include one or more leak detection methods capable of detecting a release from any part of the tank and connected underground piping that routinely contain product.

1994 – UST Owners Must Provide Proof of Financial Responsibility

Since February 1994, UST owners must prove they have the financial resources to pay the costs necessary for cleaning up any leak, including compensating third parties who suffered physical injury or property damage due to the leak. UST owners have a few options to meet this obligation, including utilizing private insurance or state financial assurance funds. New Jersey is one of nine states with no EPA-approved state fund, while Florida is one of five states that phased out its fund and only pays for releases prior to the phase-out. UST owners in these states rely more heavily on insurance for financial responsibility.

1996 – EPA UST Website Goes Live

With the launch of www.epa.gov/ust, UST owners and operators, and anyone with access to the internet, can find all of the EPA’s information on USTs – program requirements, regulations, leak detection, cleanup, etc. – all in one place.

1998 – All USTs Required to Be Upgraded or Replaced

New federal release prevention requirements were instituted that required all existing USTs to be either upgraded or replaced to include spill protection, overfill protection, and corrosion protection. USTs not in compliance had to be permanently closed.

2005- More Requirements Added to Prevent UST Releases

Additional prevention requirements were added to Subtitle I of the Solid Waste Disposal Act via the Underground Storage Tank Compliance Act of 2005, which was added as part of the Energy Policy bill passed by Congress that year. Provisions regarding inspections, operator training, secondary containment, financial responsibility, and much more were addressed. This law also changed the type and mixture of blended fuels that would be increasingly stored in USTs in greater quantities, with additional federal requirements to ensure UST compatibility.

2015 – First New Set of Regulations Since 1988

July 2015 saw the first significant update of UST regulations since the original 1998 regulations. We addressed these changes in last month’s post, which substantially updated requirements on UST operation, maintenance, leak detection and release prevention.

2021 – EPA Hits 500,000 Milestone of UST Release Cleanups

By the end of the year, EPA announced it had cleaned up, with the help of partner states and private industry, more than 500,000 UST releases since the program’s start in 1984. This left 62,000 UST releases remaining to be cleaned up, a process that continues to this day.

Contact Lutz Today for Help With USTs in Florida and New Jersey

For help with the installation, maintenance, or removal of underground storage tanks on your property, contact Lutz Petroleum Equipment Installation in Florida at 954-971-5222 or Herbert Lutz Co., Inc. in New Jersey at 908-862-8888. With our expertise, you can ensure that your USTs are compliant, safe, and functioning effectively. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact Herbert Lutz & Company today.

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