Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida should spend more to clean up leaking tanks

Thousands of underground petroleum tanks are buried across Florida, endangering the drinking water supply because the state doesn’t make their cleanup a priority or require that nearby residents be alerted. This hidden public health threat has existed for too long and is entirely avoidable. The Florida Legislature should provide more money to clean up these tanks and require public notification of these contaminated sites.

More than 19,000 storage tanks that are no longer in use are scattered across Florida, including more than 1,700 in the Tampa Bay area, according to the Department of Environmental Protection, the agency in charge of cleaning up the mess. The sites include abandoned convenience stores and former automotive repair shops. In the 1980s, the federal government began warning of the health risks associated with underground tanks, leading Florida legislators to establish a trust fund to assess and restore contaminated sites.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman reported Sunday how the effort fell far short of its goal. Lawmakers never set aside enough money for the cleanup program. While about 6,500 sites statewide were undergoing rehabilitation as of November, another 3,000 sites were awaiting work. That figure includes more than 550 sites in the Tampa Bay area, mostly in Pinellas (268) and Hillsborough (260). This work is in addition to the thousands of contaminated sites being cleaned up by private parties, who since 1999, after new regulations were adopted, were made financially responsible for cleaning up their own operations.

A watchdog group comprised of former state, local and federal regulators, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, blames a shortfall of funds and moves by the Florida Legislature in recent years to redirect tank cleanup funds to other purposes. That has led the state to focus its efforts on lower-ranked and less expensive cleanup sites in order to boost the cleanup numbers and "create a facade of progress," the group maintains. DEP denies it is making lower-ranked sites a priority; a spokeswoman noted the agency must obtain access to these sites and negotiate funding agreements for the work, which can affect the schedule.

The point being lost is that all of these tanks should be cleaned up in a more timely manner. With thousands of sites still on the waiting list, there is no excuse for the Legislature to have reduced the appropriations for the cleanup program for the last several years, dropping from $125 million in the 2015-16 budget to $115 million in the current year.

DEP says it cannot estimate what it would cost to complete the work at the remaining sites, given the unique nature of the contamination threat. But with 3,000 sites still on the backlog list and rehabilitation efforts still not complete on 6,500 others, it’s clear the state needs to spend more money. Lawmakers should also require that residents near these sites be notified that a public health threat exists. Now state law only requires notifying property owners that their underground tanks may be leaking. Residents nearby may have no idea that these tanks are present, much less a threat to the water supply. Lawmakers should require DEP to warn all property owners who live within a half-mile of the site of a potential hazard. These are basic safety measures, and they should not have taken decades to accomplish.

Comments

Wednesday’s letters: How home rule can help fight Red Tide

Red Tide on march | Sept. 18How home rule can help fight Red TideAt the end of 2005, as Red Tide ravaged the beaches and intracoastal waterways of Southwest Florida, volunteers from the Suncoast Sierra Club formed a coastal task force to begin de...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Cartoons for Wednesday, Sept. 19

Cartoons for Wednesday, Sept. 19

Editorial cartoons from Times wires
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

Dogs are the best | Letter, Sept. 15Honor Flight restored my faith in AmericaJust as I was about to give up on our country due to divisiveness and and the divisions among its people and politicians, my pride was restored. As a member of the recen...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18

Editorial cartoons for Sept. 18

From Times wires
Published: 09/17/18

Column: We’re measuring the economy all wrong

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Bros., the official economic statistics — the ones that fill news stories, television shows and presidential tweets — say that the U.S. economy is fully recovered.The unemployment rate is lower tha...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

The Tampa City Council has yet to hear a compelling reason to allow a private social club in a residential neighborhood off Bayshore Boulevard, and a final meeting on the matter scheduled for Thursday offers the council a chance to show the diligence...
Published: 09/14/18
Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Florence began lashing down on the Carolinas Thursday and was expected to make landfall early Friday, washing over dunes, downing trees and power lines and putting some 10 million people in the path of a potentially catastrophic storm. Flor...
Published: 09/13/18
Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has headed down a dangerous path by announcing he has started the process to fill three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court as he heads out the door. But to his credit, the governor indicated his "expectation’’ is that he ...
Published: 09/12/18
Updated: 09/14/18