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Overview Of The Federal UST Program

What is an UST?

An underground storage tank system (UST) is a tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground. The federal UST regulations apply only to UST systems storing either petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

When the UST program began, there were approximately 2.1 million regulated UST systems in the U.S. Today there are far fewer since many substandard UST systems have been closed. For the most current statistics available, see the UST Performance Measures. Nearly all USTs at these sites contain petroleum. These sites include marketers who sell gasoline to the public (such as service stations and convenience stores) and nonmarketers who use tanks solely for their own needs (such as fleet service operators and local governments). EPA estimates that less than 10,000 tanks hold hazardous substances covered by the UST regulations.

Why be concerned about USTs?

Until the mid-1980s, most USTs were made of bare steel, which is likely to corrode over time and allow UST contents to leak into the environment. Faulty installation or inadequate operating and maintenance procedures also can cause USTs to release their contents into the environment.

The greatest potential hazard from a leaking UST is that the petroleum or other hazardous substance can seep into the soil and contaminate groundwater, the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans. A leaking UST can present other health and environmental risks, including the potential for fire and explosion.

How have Congress and EPA responded to concerns about USTs?

In 1984, Congress responded to the increasing threat to groundwater posed by leaking USTs by adding Subtitle I to the Solid Waste Disposal Act. Subtitle I required EPA to develop a comprehensive regulatory program for USTs storing petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

Congress directed EPA to publish regulations that would require owners and operators of new tanks and tanks already in the ground to prevent, detect, and clean up releases. At the same time, Congress banned the installation of unprotected steel tanks and piping beginning in 1985.

In 1986, Congress amended Subtitle I and created the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, which is to be used for two purposes:

  1. To oversee cleanups by responsible parties.
  2. To pay for cleanups at sites where the owner or operator is unknown, unwilling, or unable to respond, or which require emergency action.

The 1986 amendments also established financial responsibility requirements. Congress directed EPA to publish regulations that would require UST owners and operators to demonstrate they are financially capable of cleaning up releases and compensating third parties for resulting damages.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 amended Subtitle I. The UST provisions of the Energy Policy Act focus on preventing releases. It expands the use of the LUST Trust Fund and includes provisions regarding inspections, operator training, delivery prohibition, secondary containment and financial responsibility, and cleanup of releases that contain oxygenated fuel additives.

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) Exit EPA Disclaimer, Congress appropriated $200 million from the LUST Trust Fund to EPA for cleaning up leaks from USTs.  EPA allocated $190.7 million to states and territories in assistance agreements to address shovel ready sites within their jurisdictions; $6.3 million for site assessment and cleanup activities in Indian country; and EPA retained $3 million by EPA for management and oversight.

Do all tanks have to meet federal EPA regulations?

The following USTs do not need to meet federal requirements for USTs:

Some state/local regulatory authorities, however, may include these tank types--be sure you check with these authorities.

What are the federal requirements for USTs?

In 1988, EPA issued UST regulations divided into three sections: technical requirements, financial responsibility requirements, and state program approval objectives (as described below).

Need more information?

See basic information EPA developed about the underground storage tank program.

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