Nationally, we have a lot of experience regarding Lust.
Don't think this article is going to be more exciting than it really will be. I am talking about leaking underground storage tanks, often called LUST. We enviro professionals love our acronyms.
Many states have successful taxes that fund the cleanups of these tanks. And there are leakers everywhere. So the funding has come in handy.
Yes, when possible, the responsible parties should pay. But the problem is that often the truly responsible no longer can be found. So these state funding programs have worked and have been very necessary.
Taxes come from different sources, depending on the state and the program. Sometimes a small petroleum tax is assessed. Sometimes money from existing tax revenue streams are specifically dedicated just for tank cleanups.
I like these tax funds because the nationwide LUST problem is a big problem. Whether it's petroleum or solvents that are leaking, we need to get them out of the ground to safeguard our drinking water supplies.
There are other important environmental reasons, such as the prevention of vapor intrusion, that warrant special attention to this issue.
For this reason, Arizona's recent decision to abandon its State Assurance Fund is really troublesome and a step backwards. Arizona publicly states that taxpayers should not pay to clean leaking tanks and that polluters should pay.
Sounds great when campaigning for re-election, but it often does not work. As those of us with lots of experience know, and as most states have learned, the polluters are often long gone when the problems are detected.
They have either closed shop, often decades before problems are detected, or they become bankrupt. Sometimes they simply leave the state. This scenario repeats itself every day of the week.
When responsible parties can't be found, frequently the state must step in with public funding. Often, there are no other options. The question is this: Do we want to debate public policy while we drink polluted water, or do we want to clean the environment now using private money to the extent possible, but supplementing with tax funds when necessary?
Let the polluter pay is what the regulators shouted in the 1980s, before they knew better. Now, when possible, the idea is still to let the polluter pay. But you need a backup plan for the many instances where the polluter can't be found or is otherwise not available. Arizona lawmakers know that, and they opted for political gain rather than doing the right thing.
Politics should never govern environmental policy. The states that are further along on environmental management have, at least to some extent, learned this lesson.
Arizona's recent turn around in policy demonstrates that Arizona still has a long way to go before it will be truly environmentally enlightened. Too bad!