California UST Cleanup Fund Direction
CORE has been instrumental in passing legislation in recent years that has kept funding available for active cleanups and case closures. Our current focus on the UST Cleanup Fund includes:
- Gathering input from our members and providing a unified voice to help shape the development of new funding directions such as the "non-UST sub-account"
- Continued participation in the citizen advisory group for the UST Fund to implement effective program changes and keep our membership abreast of current UST Fund direction.
- Continued education of CORE members and others about funding and scientifically based better cleanups.
CORE officers attend Fund Interest Group meetings quarterly. By actively participating, we are able to communicate to stakeholders the fiscal and operational status of the California UST Cleanup Fund. Additionally, CORE amplifies stakeholder concerns to the Fund management through our participation.
The California UST Cleanup Fund has been for many years the primary source of funds to clean up gasoline leaks and spills from gas stations, fuel depots and other properties throughout California. Since it was established by the California legislature in 1992, the Fund has been financed by "throughput fees" collected at underground petroleum storage facilities in California. The Fund received about $250 million per year and has been providing the funding to gradually reduce the number of "open" cleanup sites. Over time, sites progress from the investigation and evaluation stage into the more expensive cleanup stage. The 99 government oversight agencies across California did not have consistent requirements for investigation and cleanup of fuel contaminated soils and groundwater. Over several years before 2008, the revenues received by the Fund and applied directly to contaminated properties did not keep up with the increasing costs of cleaning up properties, particularly the significant funds needed in the critical remediation stage. By late 2008, the Fund's reserves had been depleted, and the State Water Resources Control Board took emergency steps to reform the Fund. The Board immediately suspended 1,550 Class "C" claims (of small businesses and corporations). Reimbursement payments on Class "B" claims (individuals and partnerships with properties and gas stations) were delayed, some for many months. This crisis in funding interrupted the steady progress many sites were making towards closure, and severely impaired the viability of many small businesses, ranging from gas station owners and operators, to property owners who inherited old fuel tanks, to the smaller environmental consulting services companies.
The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) took steps to “right the ship” in 2008 by convening a Cleanup Fund Task Force made up of many environmental stakeholders representing property and business owners, regulators, consultants, vendors and environmentalists. An independent audit was also performed on the Fund’s operations. The Task Force and the audit provided guidance for the Fund management to help reorganize its business model. At the same time, legislation (AB1188) was passed that temporarily increased the per gallon fee collected to fund the program. AB1188 increased the per gallon fee in calendar years 2010 and 2011. The additional funds raised by AB1188 went to paying off the unfunded liabilities to the suspended “C” claimants that had built up as a result of the cash shortfall.
As the UST Cleanup Fund paid down the outstanding “C” reimbursements, it shifted it’s business model and assigned each claim a budget based on where in the assessment/remediation process each was in. The budgeting process was implemented for fiscal year 2011/12. In order to decrease the number of open claims, priority was given to sites with active cleanups and those immediately ready for closure. These sites were allotted the majority of available funds while sites in the assessment category were largely funded with a minimal amount that only allowed for periodic groundwater monitoring. This rationing of money for cleanups reflects the ongoing outpacing of the cost of cleanups versus the revenues of the UST Cleanup Fund.