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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

California Accelerated Cleanup Project

U.S. EPA Region 9 and State of California Joint Project to Improve Efficiency of Leaking Underground Storage Tank ( LUST) Cleanups and Reduce the Number of Open Cases in California


In October 2002, EPA and its state partners have established a national goal of completing 18,000 to 23,000 LUST cleanups each year for fiscal years 2003-2007. This cleanup goal, which is part of EPA's Strategic Plan, aims to reduce the current national caseload of over 136,000 LUST sites undergoing cleanup by one-half over five years. To better understand the nature of these sites, EPA OUST launched a study in early 2004 to characterize the caseload of LUST sites in selected states and Indian country. The state of California, with over 15,000 open LUST cases, was selected as one of the states for study.

EPA and the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) UST Cleanup Unit have already been working cooperatively for a number of years to improve the efficiency of LUST cleanups. Efforts to date include:

  • Creation of the GeoTracker online geographic information system (GIS) and database for statewide tracking and management of LUST sites.
  • Implementation of risk-based corrective action (RBCA) in selected areas.
  • Legislation and initial implementation of performance based LUST cleanup contracts.
  • Petroleum brownfields cleanup projects to encourage reuse of LUST sites.

Though these efforts have laid the groundwork for more efficient cleanups, they do not appear to have had a dramatic effect on reducing the number of open LUST cases in California. In fact, the number of open cases has remained relatively constant at around 15,000 since 1998 (Figure 1).

The reasons for this constant caseload of open LUST sites are not completely clear. Possible reasons include: the case to staff ratio, a need for more prioritization and standardized procedures, stringent cleanup levels imposed by regional and local regulatory agencies, technical complexities associated with investigation and cleanup of MTBE releases, constant "discovery" of new releases as a result of California UST upgrade regulation rollout, data management/data quality issues, and a lack of incentives or actual disincentives for stakeholders to investigate and cleanup sites rapidly.

Regardless of the underlying reasons, it is clear that existing LUST sites are being cleaned up at about the same rate that new cases are reported in California. Therefore, to meet the OUST goal, the rate of cleanups completed must be increased and the number of new confirmed releases must be reduced. (The issue of reducing the number of new confirmed releases is being addressed through other EPA and State efforts and is not part of this project.)

Project Outline

Building on our past efforts, EPA Region 9 USTPO and the SWRCB UST Cleanup Unit are undertaking this new joint project as a partnership to improve efficiency of LUST cleanups and reduce the number of open cases. The three main goals of the project are:

  1. Study California's LUST closure process to identify any obstacles to LUST site cleanups and also identify existing activities that appear to help speed site cleanups.
  2. Use the study results to improve efficiency and rate of LUST cleanups by streamlining the regulatory process.
  3. Provide assistance to identify and appropriately close existing low-risk LUST cases.

EPA and the SWRCB believe that this approach can produce both short-term reductions in the number of open cases by closing low-risk sites, and longer-term reductions through changes in regulatory procedures.

To accomplish these goals EPA and will undertake the following tasks:

  • Evaluate the GeoTracker database to identify trends and issues related to site closure.
  • Conduct workshops at regional and local regulatory agencies to better understand the regulatory process in California (agencies will initially be selected based upon numbers of open cases, willingness to participate, and other criteria obtained from database analysis).
  • Solicit input and information from state regulators regarding potential obstacles or impediments to site closure.
  • Provide technical assistance in the form of contractor support to identify and close low-risk sites.
  • Work with regional and local regulators to identify and implement pilot projects for streamlining the regulatory process (potentially including multi-site agreements for managing groups of sites with the same responsible party or in the same geographic area).
  • Provide outreach and assistance for implementing improved regulatory procedures, potentially including training, guidance documents, and standardized timeframes for phases of the investigation and cleanup process.
  • Increase the number of LUST case cleanup and closure by 10-20% each year over the next two years (assuming a baseline of 1000 LUST closures per year).

These outreach visits and workshops at regional and local regulatory agencies recognizes the current decentralized regulatory framework for managing LUST cases in California amongst approximately 30 different agencies (including cities, counties, water districts, and regional boards). This approach provides the opportunity to target individual programs for assistance.

The core team members for this project will include:

  • Matt Small, EPA Region 9 [project management, outreach, training, data analysis]
  • Greg Lovato, EPA Region 9 [contract management, data analysis, outreach, training]
  • Jonathan Leong, EPA Region 9 [data analysis]
  • Richard Mattick, EPA OUST [headquarters support]
  • Kevin Graves, SWRCB UST Cleanup Unit [data analysis, outreach, training, state contact]
  • Contractor support

Publications Available

  • Cleaning Up Leaks From Underground Storage Tanks PDF. (EPA 510-F-04-003). April 2004. (2 pp, 225K, About PDF)
    This 2-page, tri-fold flyer presents information on cleanup progress and program initiatives.
  • Underground Storage Tanks: Building On The Past To Protect The Future PDF (EPA 510-R-04-001). March 2004. (6 pp, 1.8M, About PDF)
    This report describes how EPA, states, tribes, and industry have successfully worked together to close 1.5 million unsafe tanks, upgrade or replace nearly all other tanks, cleanup over 300,000 releases, and dramatically reduce the number of new releases from a high of over 66,000 in 1990 to roughly 12,000 in 2003. The report also looks to future challenges such as cleaning up 130,000 remaining known releases, reusing 200,000 abandoned gas stations and petroleum brownfields sites, and improving compliance at every site to prevent new releases.

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