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Florida should find new ways to enforce fuel tank regulations

The end of 2009 marked the deadline for Florida businesses and government agencies to upgrade their unsafe fuel-storage tanks. Though they had 19 years to do so, nearly 4,700 tanks were not upgraded,’according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) database.

In 1990, state officials required all single-wall fuel tanks and pipes to be upgraded to double walls or closed off by Dec. 31, to’prevent the possibility of fuel leaks contaminating groundwater. The deadline has been pushed to’March, but owners who do not upgrade may face as much as $10,000 per day in fines, according to the St.’Petersburg Times.

Tank owners have few excuses, so state officials should not be too lenient. Replacing a fuel tank can be costly, but owners have had 19 years to finance the job. Meanwhile, the tanks have posed potential health risks to’communities.

Between 1983 and 2008, there were more than 36,000 storage tank leaks or spills in Florida, according to the Tampa Tribune. Fuel leaks are often cleaned up at taxpayers’ expense.

In the Tampa Bay area, nearly 600 fuel tanks made the DEP list. Many of them were owned by gas stations, but risky tanks were also found at government agencies and private businesses, including 11 tanks owned by Hernando Area Regional Transit and 25 tanks owned by Suncoast Oil of St. Petersburg.

Some businesses on the list have made the upgrade or are in the process of doing so, but the DEP faces a logistical’problem trying to keep track of the tanks, let alone enforcing the requirements.

Tank owners are largely to blame for missing the deadline,’but the fact that so many did miss it points to a larger’problem. Government agencies often impose new regulations and set reasonable deadlines. They may do their best to inform business owners, but many still fail to comply, even in the face of fines.

When the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was signed in December of 2007, public pools nationwide had a year to install new drain covers that would prevent entrapment.’The act passed after a’7-year-old girl died because she became stuck in the suction of a hot-tub drain. Preventing this potentially lethal problem could be as simple as installing drain covers which aren’t flat.

Yet in July of 2009 – seven months after the deadline – the National Swimming Pool Foundation estimated that half of the 300,000 U.S. public pools had failed to install anti-entrapment’devices. These pools faced the threat of shut downs, yet the regulations proved difficult to enforce.

Agencies are completely’missing the ball when it comes to regulating this type of thing, nor are businesses complying. If the DEP did more to stress the dangers of risky fuel tanks, tank owners’would have more incentive to be environmentally friendly.