New York City Settles UST Violations

On Jan. 25, the federal government settled a civil lawsuit against New York City involving violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in connection with the city's underground storage tank systems. The settlement requires the city to pay $1.3 million in civil penalties and to bring substandard tank systems into compliance with federal law.

The consent decree also requires the city to undertake an additional environmental project to improve the city's ability to identify releases from its underground storage tanks.

The federal government charged in the lawsuit that, from at least 1997, the city has been violating RCRA in connection with its underground storage tank systems. As alleged in the complaint, New York City owns at least 1,600 underground storage tanks in at least 400 locations throughout the New York City metropolitan area, including all five boroughs. The complaint further explained that underground storage tanks store petroleum and other substances that can harm the environment and human health if these substances were to leak from the tanks.

The lawsuit charged that New York City has for many years committed numerous violations of RCRA and the federal Underground Storage Tank regulations issued by the EPA, including that the city failed to: upgrade or close non-compliant underground storage tank systems; provide proper methods to detect releases of hazardous substances; and report, investigate, and confirm suspected releases of regulated substances.

As part of the settlement, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Jan. 25, the city agreed to pay a $1.3 million civil monetary penalty to the federal government, and to spend additional hundreds of thousands of dollars to carry out environmental projects that will improve the city's ability to detect releases from its underground storage tanks. In particular, the city will undertake a multi-year project to monitor releases and suspected releases from a central location for the underground storage tanks owned and operated by the Police Department, the Fire Department and the Department of Transportation. In addition, the consent decree requires the city to comply with RCRA by upgrading or closing non-compliant underground storage tanks.

"I am pleased that New York City has agreed to fix the problems it has had in managing its underground storage tanks and take responsibility for the past violations," said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Region 2 administrator. "Leaking underground tanks can pose a serious safety risk in densely populated areas, because they contain toxic components that can seep into the soil and into underground structures, such as basements and subways. This settlement will go a long way toward ensuring that the people of New York are protected from these risks."

Additional information on EPA's underground storage tank regulations can be found at http://www.epa.gov/swerust1.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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