Sunday, December 5, 2010

Money to keep clean up leaking gas and oil tanks snatched by the Michigan Legislature to shovel into general fund abyss

There are more than 9,000 old, leaking underground petroleum storage tanks in Michigan. Where there’s an owner alive and viable (a responsible party), they are required to clean the mess up.

We pay 7/8ths of a cent on every gallon of gas we buy in Michigan to fund a program to help clean up the worst of these places when no responsible party is available to send the bill to. That’s important because some sites release dangerous petroleum pollutants into groundwater, streams or lakes. Others pollute nearby water wells. It’s also important because it puts toxic land that nobody would otherwise want back into productive use with potential to create jobs.

The tax was expiring this year, and the Legislature renewed it. You’d think that’s good news, but it’s not so simple. Legislators are using much of the money to shovel into general fund budget holes.

The program isn’t being picked on uniquely. Legislators have been robbing “non essential” programs for years to scrabble together the state budget.  And it’s going to get more cannibalistic, with $3 billion in cuts required for the next legislature to balance the budget. Cuts like that mean huge changes for lots of people. One set of proposals made by the lame duck administration in Lansing calls for privatizing the University of Michigan and eliminating State Police road patrols. Against cuts of that scale, small fry like toxic leaking underground tanks stand no chance.

So let’s just be honest. If we’re unwilling to pay enough taxes to clean up orphaned sites of contamination let’s stop collecting the 7/8ths of a cent tax altogether. We’ll have saved drivers 13 cents at each fill-up. And we’ll just write off the contaminated lands as permanent blight in our neighborhoods – and our reduced property values -- in exchange for our 13 cents. 


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