On September 25, 2014, Governor Brown signedSB 445 (Hill)Underground storage tanks; hazardous substances: petroleum: groundwater and surface water contamination into law (UST Law).  The UST Law was an urgency measure that took effect immediately.

The UST Law makes changes to the Underground Storage Cleanup Fund (UST Fund).  The UST Fund provides a mechanism to reimburse owners and operators of USTs the cost to remediate contaminated sites as the result of leaking USTs.  Most importantly, the UST Law extended the program’s sunset date by ten years to January 1, 2026.  Under the prior law, the UST Fund was set to expire in 2016, leaving many UST sites without access to state funds.

The UST Law also increased the fee assessed on petroleum stored in underground storage tanks from $0.014 per gallon to $0.02 per gallon.  The UST Law, however, reduced the maximum reimbursement amounts from the current $1.5 million to $1 million for claims, EAR Account sites, Orphan Site Cleanup Fund Sites, and commingled Plume account sites that are submitted after December 31, 2014.  To address fraud concerns, the UST Law imposed civil penalties on any person who fails or refuses to furnish information or furnishes false information.  Persons convicted of making a false statement or found civilly liable for specified conduct relating to any claim can be barred from receiving any money from the Fund.

Civil liability may also be imposed for misrepresentations made to the Fund.  Knowingly false statements, material misrepresentations, or false certifications are punishable by a criminal fine, imprisonment or both.  These provisions reinforce the importance of submitting accurate claims and ensuring any consultants working on the claims use the utmost care and integrity.  Finally, the UST Law requires all single-walled USTs to be permanently closed by December 31, 2025.

The UST Law and UST Fund are important mechanisms to pay for the cleanup of contaminated sites.  However, the requirements are constantly changing.  Therefore, it is important for claimants to be familiar with the UST Law and keep informed of the changes.