Washington State: Plan For Gas Stations’ Future Instead of Bailing Them Out
About half of the 450,000 “brownfield” sitescontaminated with hazardous materials in the U.S. are former gas stations. Most typically, the contamination occurred because of leaks in the former gas stations’ large underground gasoline storage tanks. These old gas station sites leach gasoline and other toxins into the surrounding soil and water, and are very expensive to clean up. Many of the site owners simply abandon them.
The federal government requires gas stations to carry $1 million in liability insurance to pay for cleanup costs. Gas stations can’t operate without that insurance. Some private insurers provide this insurance to gas stations on a market basis, but only after a careful risk assessment and only if the tanks are less than 20 years old. Tanks are at high risk of leaking after 25 years, and the risk grows with every passing year.
Thirty-six states provide gas stations the insurance they need to meet federal requirements, but without requiring risk assessments, newer tanks, or insurance premiums sufficient to pay for the cleanup of the soil and groundwater contamination that leaking tanks cause. These state insurance funds constitute an enormous, critical, and unseen subsidy to the oil industry. Another major result of lax state insurance programs is that about half of the operating gas stations in the US now have underground storage tanks that are overdue for replacement and/or are leaking.