With SB 181, the NCGA continues its relentless attack on the environment

This legislative session of the North Carolina General Assembly has mounted a frontal assault on our state’s environment and the ability of our regulatory agencies to preserve our clean air, water, and land. Now, state lawmakers have added Senate Bill 181 to the list of destructive, counterproductive proposals that our state’s precious natural resources have to face.

S 181, as described in the bill’s title, “amends” the state’s “underground storage tank program.” Specifically, though, the bill outlines the circumstances in which leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs) aren’t cleaned up, by weakening sanctions on polluters and increasing the burden on ordinary taxpayers.

A LUST is a storage tank that is highly likely to contaminate groundwater. As such, North Carolina currently has a LUST cleanup fund written into state law, paid for partially by LUST owners but mostly through motorist taxes. S 181 expands of the fund’s uses to include above-ground tanks, without asking those owners to contribute to the cleanup fund. Moreover, the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources estimates that these newly included tanks could number in the thousands.

The end result of this legislation is that, through expansion of the cleanup fund’s uses without forcing the actual polluters to pay for added costs, the burden is passed to taxpaying consumers. S 181 erodes the accountability of owners to properly install, inspect, and maintain their tanks, since it acts to absolve them economically of the environmental damage they may cause.

In short, it does everything that a law dealing with potentially harmful storage tanks ought not to do. Instead of setting transparent public standards that guide cleanup of leaks, requiring polluters to pay for harm they’ve caused, and preventing leaks through the building of safer tanks, it does the exact opposite on each count. How is this sensible? S 181 helps no one interested in the wellbeing of our state.

That’s because supporters of the bill include powerful oil companies that seek endless subsidies. One of S 181’s prominent supporters, in fact, includes WilcoHess, LLC. WilcoHess is a subsidiary of Hess, a corporation that reeled in $34.6 billion in revenue last year alone. North Carolina’s taxpayers are being forced to subsidize the cleanup of multibillion-dollar enterprises trying to dodge environmental regulation.

We can’t stand for this. Leaking tanks emit gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and oil into our groundwater supplies. While many leaking tanks have been cleaned up, a 2011 EPA report cites over 5,000 leaking tanks that remain unfixed. According to DENR, our state has 856 water-supply wells that are contaminated by commercial LUSTs at 443 sites that are still open. Over 800,000 North Carolinians draw their water from wells, while about 27,000 commercial underground storage tanks exist in the state, one of the highest numbers in the country.

This is no time to grant amnesty to polluters. S 181 transfers the responsibility for damaging our state’s groundwater supply from the owners of leaky underground storage tanks to innocent taxpayers. It’s funded heavily by large corporations and is little concerned about the welfare of North Carolina and its citizens.

Time to put a halt to senseless legislation that will end up critically damaging our state for good. Contact your legislators and say no to S 181.

Comments

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This bill is really a face-hander. That something like this could be positively viewed in Committee is evidence that Committee doesn't have the expertise or the common sense to get anywhere near environmental lawmaking.