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VOL. 40 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 19, 2016

Tennessee board shifts gas station cleanup costs

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Since Gov. Bill Haslam took office, a Tennessee board that enforces environmental rules has eased the burden of business owners to pay for cleaning up toxic spills at gas stations and truck stops.

The Department of Environment and Conservation oversees a $50 million environmental cleanup fund whose rules are set by the Underground Storage Tank and Solid Waste Disposal Control Board. Since 1990, the fund has been paying to clean up spills and is backed by a combination of a consumer-paid gas tax at the pump and an annual fee from petroleum tanks owners.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2bVQf5z) reports the share of the fund's annual contributions paid by companies has dropped from nearly 19 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in 2015. While companies contribute about $2 million annually in such fees, Tennessee drivers contributed about $18 million last year.

Since Haslam took office in 2011, the 14-member board has been reconfigured. Twelve of the board's members are appointed by the governor.

The newspaper reports that board members representing consumers have been eliminated. Four board members representing the petroleum industry have been retained.

The board approved a resolution that became law last year to increase from $1 million to $2 million the state funding available to private companies for environmental spills caused by failures or accidents.

In 2016, another new law gave the board the option to suspend the annual fees for the cleanup fund paid by gas stations and truck stops. Some board members have signaled their support for eliminating those fees this year.

Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said the governor took steps to consult with counsel before restructuring the board to ensure there was no conflict of interest. Donnals said TDEC proposed the new structure. She also noted board members appointed before Haslam took office had voted to cut industry fees.

Since the fund started, it has paid out $10 million to truck stop chain Pilot Flying J, which is owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Bill Haslam. Bill Haslam has said he isn't involved with operating the company.

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