Statement of Senator Lincoln D. Chafee
Underground Storage Tank Compliance Act of 2001
May 8, 2002
Good afternoon. I would like to thank Senator Boxer for conducting this hearing on the Underground Storage Tank Compliance Act of 2001. This is the second hearing before the Committee on this legislation. I conducted a field hearing in Pascoag, Rhode Island on February 25th during which we received first-hand testimony from people affected directly by leaking underground storage tanks about the problems we face when gasoline and MTBE contaminate groundwater.
I would like to provide a brief history of federal efforts to address underground storage tanks, so we can have a better understanding of what is needed today. In 1984, Congress enacted a comprehensive program to address the problem of leaking tanks. This was in reaction to the discovery of groundwater contamination in different parts of the country and its linkage to underground tanks. In fact, Rhode Island played a leading role in formulating that debate. A 1983 60 Minutes report about leaking tanks in Canob Park in Richmond increased the nationís awareness about this widespread problem.
The 1984 law imposed minimum federal requirements for leak detection and prevention standards for underground tanks. In 1988, owners and operators of existing tank systems were given ten years to upgrade, replace, or close tanks that didnít meet minimum federal requirements. As the deadline passed in December, 1998, many underground storage tanks failed to meet the federal standards to prevent spillage, overfilling, and corrosion.
To assess the situation, Senator Smith and I asked the U.S. General Accounting Office to examine compliance of tanks with federal requirements. Last May, GAO concluded that approximately 76,000 tanks have never been upgraded to meet minimum federal standards. In addition, GAO found that more than 200,000 tanks are not being operated and maintained properly. GAO cited infrequent tank inspections and limited funding among the contributing factors. These problems are real. The Village of Pascoag, Rhode Island learned the hard way that the problems GAO outlined are real and have serious consequences. Twelve hundred households were without water with which to drink, bathe, or cook for over four months.
In order to assist communities that are grappling with these problems and to prevent such problems from reoccurring, several of my colleagues and I introduced the bipartisan Underground Storage Tank Compliance Act. It requires the inspection of all underground storage tanks every two years and for the first time focuses on the training of tank operators. It simply does not make sense to install modern, protective equipment if the people who operate them do so improperly. The bill also provides the federal government and States with the tools necessary to ensure that all parties are meeting federal standards. In addition, the legislation emphasizes compliance of tanks owned by federal, state, and local governments, and provides $200 million for cleanup of sites contaminated by MTBE.
I would like to quickly address the issue of MTBE. During the energy debate, the Senate spent a lot of time debating the phase-out of MTBE and the use of ethanol. I would like to clarify that S. 1850 is independent from that effort. Assuming Congress phases out MTBE, we must still fix the tanks so that ordinary gasoline does not spoil our environment.
I am looking forward to hearing from our witnesses. The testimony we received at the field hearing certainly provided unique insight into the problems we are facing, and I know todayís panelists will do the same. I would like to especially welcome Art DeBlois from the DB Companies in Rhode Island, who is testifying today on behalf of SIGMA and NACS. Art, thank you for being here today. I would also like to extend my appreciation to Marianne Horinko for testifying today and for yesterdayís $1 million grant, which EPA provided to Pascoag, Rhode Island to continue the MTBE cleanup. The money is very needed and very welcome.
Thank you, Senator Boxer.