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The PPM Blog

UST Trust Fund Eligibility – Report or Regret

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the cameraContributed by Jacob Pongetti, Staff Scientist, PPM Consultants

I’ve worked with Underground Storage Tank (UST) state trust fund programs to ensure that PPM’s clients (tank owners) get the full benefits of the trust fund in the event that a release occurs. Tank owners spend a lot of time, energy, and money working with state regulators to keep their UST systems in compliance. It only makes sense that after years of fees, training, monitoring, and record-keeping the tank owner is allowed everything the trust fund has to offer in the event of a release. No tank owner I’ve ever met needs any convincing that they want to experience as few releases as possible, preferably none. The tank owner’s cost of fuel is currently around $3 per gallon, and there is no return on investment for a leak! Eventually, the unexpected can and will occur. Petroleum releases are a hazard to the surrounding wildlife, a health hazard to you and me, and (if that wasn’t enough) can lead to a financial and legal headache.

Many things can be done to mitigate the possibility of releases and prepare a proper response in the event of a release. PPM can lend a hand with release prevention, response, and remediation. But I wanted to bring attention to one easily avoidable issue that I’ve seen lead to trust fund eligibility problems. It is regulator communication, especially regarding a suspected release. Some states are extremely strict about reporting time frames. I’ve witnessed tank owners denied trust fund eligibility because they missed these reporting timeframes by a few weeks. Most of the time, it is because the release wasn’t apparent. Sure, in the event that fuel is flowing across the parking lot, no one would hesitate with emergency response and regulator involvement. It is generally an “odd result” from a leak detection system or monitoring records that seem weird but usually “fix themselves.” Tank owners will generally take decisive action when they see obvious signs of a release during walk through inspections, leak detection reports, tightness testing, or during general UST system maintenance. It’s the not so obvious, sometimes “gray” situations that can lead to trust fund denial/ineligibility. I’ve seen scenarios where the tank owner was taking active steps to address the issue at the site, however, informing the regulators gets lost in the shuffle. I can see how it makes sense from a certain point of view. Until the test and maintenance are done what is there to report?

I have spoken with many state regulators, and often, an email regarding the “weird result” could have prevented the tank owner from the financial consequences of trust fund ineligibility. The weird result may be just that, and if so, all is well no harm done. However, in cases where it turns out to be a bigger deal that leads to the discovery of a release, weeks can go by while testing and retesting are done. Once the regulating body is informed, the reporting timeframe has long passed. The time frame is generally 24-72 hours, depending on the state. Specific state regulators have different methods and idiosyncrasies for reporting releases. In my home state of Mississippi a phone call or email explaining the known details of an event gets the job done and the ball rolling. In Alabama, a release is initially reported as “suspected.” If subsequent details reveal there was no actual release, the incident is not recorded as a reportable release. Check each applicable state’s release reporting procedures and make sure your consultant knows the nuances of that state.

Whenever I’ve been present for discussions about trust fund eligibility, regulators frequently question, “Why did you wait so long to report this?” Usually, the delay is not due to the tank owner’s negligence or inattention, but because they were actively working to diagnose and address the issue. Basically, they weren’t sure there was anything to report. While a lot is going on when things go wrong with a UST system, take a moment to inform your state regulator. Feel free to drop us a line at PPM. We’re always happy to report something to a regulator and take one thing off your plate. I have yet to meet a regulator who would take issue with a reported suspected release that turns out to be nothing to worry about. The state regulators hope it turns out to be nothing more than an anomalous leak detection result. Still, if they don’t know about it soon enough, they can deny trust fund eligibility based on that alone.

In summary, if an issue pops up at a UST site, it may be significant, but in 90% of cases, it is not. I recommend going ahead and reporting it anyway. The 10% chance of an issue could lead to the denial of a trust fund, which would be a costly assumption at the very least. PPM is always happy to lend a hand, whether it’s something or nothing.  Feel free to email me at if you ever want to discuss release reporting issues.

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