TESTIMONY BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON SUPERFUND, TOXICS, RISK AND WASTE MANAGEMENT
OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
CRAIG PERKINS, DIREGTOR OF ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
CITY OF SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
On behalf of the Mayor and City Council of the City of Santa Monica I want to thank you for the opportunity to give testimony on S. 1850. First, I would like to share with you today the key lessons we have learned from our painful experiences with underground storage tanks and MTBE in Santa Monica. Santa Monica is a city of nearly 90,000 permanent residents and over 200,000 daily visitors. The City depends heavily on groundwater for its drinking water supply. After many years of effort, by 1995 we had been able to maximize the use of local groundwater supplies and achieve 70% water self-sufficiency. By using our sustainable local water resources we were able to reduce our reliance on increasingly scarce water imported from Northern California and the Colorado River. This all changed in 1996 when Santa Monica was hit with a drinking water catastrophe caused by MTBE. Within a six-month period in 1996 MTBE forced Santa Monica to shut down most of its water wells. These wells accounted for one-half of the total daily water supply in Santa Monica and we must now import more than 80 percent of our drinking water, putting further strain on California's already fragile water supply system. The effects of MTBE can be devastating:
• Once released from a tank or pipeline, MTBE travels quickly and readily dissolves in water unlike the other chemicals in gasoline;
• MTBE has an uncanny ability to find its way into drinking water wells. Although gasoline has been around for decades, it is only the relatively recent addition of MTBE that has caused widespread water contamination in Santa Monica and elsewhere;
• MTBE attacks swiftly. Once discovered, MTBE levels in the City's wells rose more quickly than any other water contaminant we had ever encountered; and
• MTBE strikes at the heart of public confidence in the safety of drinking water supplies. People will not drink water that smells and tastes like turpentine, nor should they be expected to.
S. 1850 is a step in the right direction toward stricter oversight of underground storage tanks and freeing up of additional financial resources to facilitate inspection, enforcement and corrective actions. However, based on our "real world" experience in Santa Monica we believe that S. 1850 should go much farther in some keys areas.
First, the allocation of $200 million for corrective actions related to MTBE releases is far less than what will be needed to clean up the MTBE mess nationwide. The projected cost to just clean up Santa Monica's main well field is over $200 million. Current estimates for the total cost of nationwide MTBE clean-up are around $30 billion. Clearly, the costs for remediation of MTBE and other water contamination must ultimately be raid for by the polluter. But, unfortunately, those companies responsible for ceasing the MTBE pollution in Santa Monica and many other communities have not yet stepped forward to do what's right. Until they do, significant financial assistance will be required to start the clean-up process.
Second, let's make sure we are doing everything that we can to keep that underground storage tanks from leaking in the first place. Even the newest underground storage tanks leak, and the leaks are often not in the tank itself but in the piping that connects the tank to the fuel dispensing systems. A primary focus in S. 1850 needs to be placed on inspection, training and enforcement. Too often in the past, operators of underground fuel tanks have been able to act irresponsibly because the threat of enforcement was remote or even nonexistent. Let's make sure that the tools and resources are in place so that non-compliant tanks are taken out of service and the public and environment are better protected.
Finally, nothing in S. 1850 should preclude any State or local government from seeking legal redress, taking legal action or adopting regulations and standards of performance with respect to underground storage tanks that are more stringent than federal law, and S. 1850 should ensure that all underground storage tank installations at federal facilities are subject to the same requirements as everyone else. S. 1850 should provide a floor, but should not hamper state or local governments in their efforts to either protect human health and the environment or pursue polluters.
If S. 1850 incorporates the stronger provisions suggested above, it can become a very significant toot to not only begin the cleanup of existing MTBE groundwater contamination but to prevent future storage tank leaks as well.
The two irrefutable facts that have emerged from Santa Monica's odyssey as the "poster child" for MTBE water contamination are: 1) underground storage tanks leak; and 2) it is extremely difficult to get polluters to pay for the clean up of their pollution. Please strengthen S. 1850 so that we will all have a better chance of not repeating the mistakes of the past. We need to create better options, which is what S. 1850 is about. Thank you for the privilege of testifying before your subcommittee today.