The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implemented a regulation requiring all underground storage tanks (USTs) in the U.S. to meet new specifications by December 1998.
By the time the rule took effect, gas station owners had come a long way toward compliance. According to EPA's Sept. 30, 1998, tally, 1,236,007 underground storage tanks had been closed by the time the rule took effect--a larger number than the 891,686 still active tanks that had been equipped to comply with EPA's new requirements.
Many tanks were found to have been leaking (leaking underground storage tanks are called LUSTs). EPA reports 371,387 confirmed releases from LUSTs. As of early this year, a total of 314,965 cleanups had been initiated, and 203,247 of those had been completed.
These compliance efforts have been costly. The average tank upgrade has cost about $100,000, and EPA estimates that the average cleanup has cost $125,000 recently. Indeed, the cleanup cost seems conceivably equal to the life savings of a gas station owner if one visualizes a sole proprietorship with an owner-operator.
The idea was to make such a person responsible for damage to the groundwater on the rationale that the groundwater is public drinking water. If an underground fuel tank leaks, lawmakers thought, the groundwater might be permanently contaminated and forever unfit for drinking. A thorough cleanup seemed a worthy use for a gas station owner's retirement nest egg.
While public …