Underground storage tanks that leak hazardous substances can contaminate nearby groundwater and soil. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), tank owners and operators are primarily responsible for paying to clean up releases from their tanks. They can demonstrate their financial responsibility by using, among other options, publicly funded state financial assurance funds. Such funds function like insurance and are intended to ensure timely cleanup. These funds also pay to clean up releases from tanks without a viable owner, as does the federal Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund. GAO was asked to report on (1) states' estimates of the public costs to clean up known releases, (2) states' primary sources of cleanups funding and their viability, and (3) federal sources to address these releases. GAO surveyed all states and discussed key issues with EPA and selected state officials.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Environmental Protection Agency||The Administrator, EPA, should ensure that states verify, on a regular basis, that tank owners and operators are maintaining adequate financial responsibility coverage, as required by RCRA.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The Administrator, EPA, should improve the agency's oversight of the solvency of state assurance funds to ensure that they continue to provide reliable financial responsibility coverage for tank owners.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The Administrator, EPA, should assess, in coordination with the states, the relative effectiveness of public and private options for financial responsibility coverage to ensure that they provide timely funding for the cleanup of releases.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The Administrator, EPA, should better focus how EPA distributes program resources to states, including LUST Trust Fund money, by ensuring that states are reporting information in their semiannual activity reports that is consistent with EPA's definitions; encouraging states to review their databases to ensure that only data on the appropriate universe of underground storage tanks are being reported in their semiannual activity reports; and gathering available information from states on releases attributed to tanks without a viable owner and taking this information into account in distributing LUST Trust Fund money to states.|