Underground Storage Tank Story in MCall
The Morning Call’s story “What Lies Beneath” (CLICK FOR FULL STORY) highlights the “out of sight, out of mind” problem of underground storage tanks used for petroleum products.
It’s disconcerting to read about inspection and cleanup backlogs around the Lehigh Valley and across the Commonwealth when the state regulatory agency with monitoring and enforcement jurisdiction over such issues was hit with among the steepest cuts in last years budget battle.
[T]he deal that ended the state’s budget crisis this month slashed funding for the Department of Environmental Protection by 27 percent. The cut, one of the largest among state agencies, leaves the DEP with significantly fewer inflation-adjusted dollars than it had well over a decade ago. Politics PA 10/24/2009)
The MCall article also highlights the communication challenges posed by fragmented local government units. As the story points out, “pollution knows no boundaries,” but East Allen Township didn’t share relevant information with neighboring Upper Nazareth, whose resident’s were experiencing firsthand effects of leaky tanks in East Allen.
”We didn’t contact anybody,” Deborah Seiple, East Allen’s manager, said in a recent interview. ”As far as I’m concerned and the zoning office is concerned, until DEP gives a final determination as to what’s going on there, it’s in their hands.” (What Lies Beneath)
The state is required to notify the municipality, but public notification is not mandated.
When the EPA approved Pennsylvania’s underground storage tank program in 2003, it required the state to notify municipalities of spills. EPA assumed municipalities would then tell the public.
. . .
Gerald Gasda, South Whitehall manager, said the pollution is a state issue. . . .”Frankly, I’m not aware of any requirement that we notify anybody,” Gasda said. He added he would be willing to create a policy to notify adjacent property owners of tank pollution if residents asked.
. . .
DEP has no plan to revise its notification procedures, meaning it will continue to tell only municipalities and property owners directly affected by leaks. Unless municipalities share that information, residents will have to rely on their own vigilance. (What Lies Beneath)
Residents directly effected can expect notification from DEP. However, residents of municipality in which the leak occurs but not directly effected must rely on municipal officials for discretionary disclosure. Residents of neighboring municipalities must hope that officials from their municipality receive notification from the municipality where the leak occurred and that the leaders in their municipality choose to share that information. Greater intermunicipal cooperation would likely increase the chances that leak information will be shared across the same municipal boundaries that the contamination does not respect.