State Vehicle Electrification Mandates and Federal PreemptionAugust 18, 2020
GOVERNING THE GASOLINE SPIGOT: GAS STATIONS AND THE TRANSITION AWAY FROM GASOLINEJanuary 18, 2021
A proposed gas station in the Village
of West Clay neighborhood in
Carmel is getting major push back
from people who live there.
Neighbors said that kind of
development just doesn’t belong there.
Photo by Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar
Prospect Park residents are calling on the City Council to reject
a new plan by a developer to build a gas station and convenience
store on residential property in their neighborhood
Photo by Carrington Tatum/MLK50
A group of residents are banding together to oppose a Costco
“mega gas station” project at the San Ramon/Danville border,
saying that such a project would bring noise, traffic and even
health risks to the area.
“Last thing people need is a gas station with 24 pumps going
on around the clock.”
Photo by Kenna Coe.
station construction The National Park Service lists Howell
Station Historic District in hits national register of historic places.
The neighborhood is located northwest of downtown Atlanta and,
according to the agency, is dominated by light industry associated
with development along Marietta Street.
Learn how 130,000 gasoline stations across the United States are fueling the climate crisis.
GAS STATIONS ARE FUELING THE CLIMATE CRISIS.
There are over 130,000 gas stations across the United States.
They are the last link in the chain connecting the oil field and the gas-powered vehicles on our streets.
Every gallon of gasoline sold adds 20 lbs of carbon dioxide to our atmosphere.
Collectively, Americans consumed 142 billion gallons of gasoline in 2019, producing 1.42 billion tons of CO2.
GOVERNING THE GASOLINE SPIGOT: GAS STATION REGULATION AND THE TRANSITION AWAY FROM GASOLINE EXPLORES QUESTIONS OF HOW AGING INFRASTRUCTURE AND GAS STATION CONTAMINATION SHOULD BE ADDRESSED AND MAPS A REGULATORY PATH FORWARD TO CREATE A SMALLER, CLEANER NETWORK OF GAS STATIONS.
CURRENT BACKLOG OF LEAKING UNDERGROUND STORAGE TANKS AWAITING CLEANUP:
Gas Stations Are Fueling The Climate Crisis, Polluting Our Communities, And Poisoning Our Health
A TYPICAL GAS STATION CAN SPILL UP TO 100 GALLONS OF GASOLINE ANNUALLY.
THE AVERAGE AGE OF AN UNDERGROUND GASOLINE STORAGE TANK IN THE U.S. IS 22.6 YEARS OLD.
PUMPING GASOLINE EMITS BENZENE, A KNOWN CARCINOGEN WITH NO SAFE EXPOSURE LEVEL.
Small spills and leaks in the course of everyday fueling can add up to anywhere from 70 to 100 gallons of spilled gasoline for every 1 million gallons sold.
A 10-gallon spill of petroleum can contaminate 12 million gallons of groundwater.
Gas station operators have little incentive to clean up leaks and spills.
Abandoned and contaminated gas stations account for roughly half of America’s 450,000 brownfields. As electric vehicles become more common and demand for gasoline shrinks, abandoned gas stations may become more common.
The lifespan for safe use of an underground storage tank (UST) for gasoline is 25-30 years. Modern storage tanks include a second wall to prevent leaks.
Roughly half of USTs and piping systems currently in use are either past the age of safe use or are single walled.
In the course of everyday use, gas stations release toxic vapors into our air and contaminate our soil and groundwater through spills and chemical runoff.
Gasoline vapors emitted during pumping contain benzene, a known carcinogen linked to hormonal disorders, fertility issues, lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and several forms of leukemia. The WHO maintains there is no safe level of benzene exposure.
Children Living Next To A Gas Station Are At 8x Higher Risk Of Developing Leukemia
WHAT CAN WE DO?
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
CLEANING UP CONTAMINATION
WHO SHOULD BEAR THE COSTS OF CLEANING UP THE GROWING NUMBER OF ABANDONED AND CONTAMINATED GAS STATIONS, WHICH NOW ACCOUNT FOR ROUGHLY ONE-HALF OF AMERICA’S 450,000 BROWNFIELDS?
Those who owned or operated the property during the spills should be responsible, to the extent they can be located and are able to pay. If there is no responsible party that has funds to pay for cleanup, a tax on gasoline should be imposed to fund these cleanups.
IF A GAS STATION OWNER OR OPERATOR IS REQUIRED TO CLEAN UP CONTAMINATION, WHAT ARE TYPICAL COSTS, AND WHO PAYS FOR THEM? TO WHAT EXTENT DOES INSURANCE COVER CLEANUP COSTS? WILL CLEANUP DRIVE THE GAS STATION OWNER/OPERATOR OUT OF BUSINESS?
Cleanup costs are highly variable, ranging from $50,000 for a small spill to millions of dollars for a major spill affecting groundwater. Cleanup often triggers requirements to install new underground storage tanks (USTs), which can start at $10,000.
Under existing law, those who were in control of the property at the time of the spill are liable and responsible for the cost of cleanup. In many cases, this means the big oil companies who were operating the gas station when leaks occurred (many in the 1980s or before) have liability for cleanup. However, these companies also have powerful legal teams to contest their obligations.
Federal law requires gas station owners and operators to have insurance to cover cleanup for underground storage tank leaks, at $1 million per incident. Private insurers are reluctant to insure USTs over 20 years old. For older tank systems, deductibles can reach $50,000 or more per claim.
Thirty-six states presently provide UST insurance to gas stations. In at least four of these states, the insurance funds have claims exceeding the available balance. State insurance funds paid an average of $152,000 per leak in 2019. Outstanding claims on state funds increased from $160 million in 2015 to $354 million in 2019.
In some cases, cleanup is so expensive that the gas station owner/operator determines the investment in cleanup will take too long to be recouped and instead delays cleanup, sells, or abandons the gas station.
Delaying cleanup often means that gasoline leaks into the groundwater and neighboring soils, with the contamination harming people, vegetation and wildlife.
IF A GAS STATION GOES OUT OF BUSINESS, HOW LONG DOES IT TYPICALLY TAKE TO CLEAN UP AND REDEVELOP IT INTO ANOTHER?
Roughly half of all brownfields in the US are shuttered gas stations. There are cleanup requirements for brownfields, but they are often ignored or poorly enforced.
A cleanup can be done in less than six months, or can drag on for years, depending on a number of factors, including the size and location of the spills, extent of groundwater contamination, disputes over responsibility, the attention given to it by the owner and the state, and the value of the property. Locations where a larger cleanup is necessary and land values are relatively low are likely to take longer to clean up. Urban locations with expensive real estate (such as San Francisco) are likely to be cleaned up relatively quickly.
ARE FORMER GAS STATIONS SAFE FOR REDEVELOPMENT FOR ANY PURPOSE, INCLUDING HOUSING, ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS, ETC?
Former gas stations can be and have been redeveloped into homes, apartments, elementary schools and health care facilities. Options for redevelopment depend on cleanup levels set by state and local governments.
THE FUTURE OF GAS STATIONS
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO PEOPLE WHO OWN AND OPERATE GAS STATIONS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES IF STRONGER HEALTH, SAFETY, AND ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS ARE PUT IN PLACE?
Regulating gas stations is about putting people and planet over profit. Some gas station owners may decide that the cost of bringing their business in line with health and safety regulations is too high and exit the business.
Regulations are also intended to protect the health of gas station workers, who are exposed to high concentrations of toxic chemicals on a daily basis, for some of the lowest wages of any workers. (It’s no surprise that only 34% of convenience store employees stay on the job longer than 90 days.)
Gasoline sales are already on the decline due to a multitude of factors including more fuel-efficient gas vehicles, decreased commuting and EV adoption. Some gas stations are pivoting from relying on gasoline sales to other revenue sources such as food and beverage and even Amazon lockers.
To the extent gas stations do shut down, many gas station owners who own the real estate under the gas station can sell the land for a profit, pending any necessary environmental cleanup. Fossil fuels are not a sustainable long-term business. The era of oil is ending.
A moratorium on new gas stations ensures a whole new generation of gas station operators are not harmed when gas stations go out of business.
CAN GAS STATIONS JUST BECOME EV CHARGING STATIONS?
The assessment of whether a gas station or former gas station is a good site for EV charging infrastructure depends on factors like local EV adoption rates and support for EV policies, existing charging infrastructure, vehicle density, and state incentives. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory created an example of a checklist for converting a former gas station into an EV charging location.
In the near term, it may be a good option for gas stations to add EV fast charging, as they are already known locations for vehicle fueling and can help assuage drivers’ “range anxiety” when switching to an EV.
In the long run, adding EV charging at gas stations may be a viable option for gas stations located along stretches of highway where other charging is not readily available, and those near apartments that do not have access to home charging.
Drivers able to charge at home and/or with access to EV charging at their workplace or where they shop or dine are unlikely to use EV charging at gas stations very often. As more public charging becomes available in places other than gas stations, the market for electric fueling at gas stations is likely to be smaller than it is presently for gasoline.
Still, 99% of drivers currently use gasoline, and the transition is likely to be gradual.
THE ROLE OF CITIES AND STATES
IF A GAS STATION GOES OUT OF BUSINESS, WHAT IS THE IMPACT TO A CITY’S REVENUES FROM GASOLINE SALES?
In California and Washington, revenue from gasoline sales is aggregated at the state level, then allocated to cities based on population and number of registered vehicles. Therefore, even cities with no gas stations at all still receive revenues from gasoline sales. These revenues typically amount to a small percent of a city’s total revenues. For instance, in Menlo Park, California, funds from gasoline taxes make up less than 2% of the city total revenues. If a city were to close a few or even all its gas stations, the impact on its revenues would be minimal.
HOW SHOULD STATES ADDRESS AGING STORAGE TANKS?
New York has decommissioned all single wall tanks and piping – other states should follow suit.
Roughly one-half of existing gas stations have storage tanks that are approaching the end of their useful life (25 to 30 years). Obtaining the federally required insurance for these tanks on the private market is often prohibitively expensive due to the high risk of leaks.
States should stop providing underground storage tank insurance subsidies that allow gas stations with aging tanks to meet EPA insurance requirements. If private insurers aren’t willing to take on the risk of aging tanks, taxpayers shouldn’t have to do so either.
Phase II inspections should be required of all tank systems more than 25 years old. (Phase II inspections involve testing the soil around tanks and piping and cost $15,000 to $20,000.) If contamination is found, the tanks should be removed.
SHOULD STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS SEEK TO DECREASE THE NUMBER OF GAS STATIONS IN THEIR JURISDICTION AS A CARBON REDUCTION STRATEGY? DOES LOCAL GOVERNMENT HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THE FLOW OF INEXPENSIVE GASOLINE?
Yes, governments should seek to cut the number of gas stations as a carbon reduction strategy. Gasoline sales are the most immediate and accurate measure of local carbon emissions. Decreasing the availability of gasoline will have an immediate impact on clean air, water and health locally. A decline in gas stations is an important signal that the switch away from gasoline and toward electric vehicles and other clean alternatives is underway and encourages consumers to accelerate their own transition away from gasoline.
A reduction in gas stations, coupled with an increase in EV charging stations with highly visible signage will shift the narrative of “range anxiety” so that EVs are perceived as the safer bet. The US already has twice the number of gas stations per capita as Europe, so even shutting down half the gas stations is unlikely to significantly impede access to gasoline.
State and local governments do not have a responsibility to ensure unlimited access to cheap, subsidized gasoline. But they do have a responsibility to protect their citizens from toxic vapors, and air, soil and groundwater contamination, as well as from the ravages of climate change. A smooth transition to gas-station-free communities is a good start.
Governing the Gasoline Spigot: Gas station regulation and the transition away from gasoline explores questions of how aging infrastructure and gas station contamination should be addressed and maps a regulatory path forward to create a smaller, cleaner network of gas stations.
LISTEN TO MATTHEW AND JANELLE DISCUSS THE ARTICLE ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL LAW INSTITUTE’S “PEOPLE PLACES PLANET” PODCAST: