Washington State: Plan For Gas Stations' Future Instead of Bailing Them Out

About half of the 450,000 "brownfield" sites contaminated with hazardous materials in the U.S. are former gas stations. Most typically, the contamination occurred because of leaks in the former gas stations' large underground gasoline storage tanks. These old gas station sites leach gasoline and other toxins into the surrounding soil and water, and are very expensive to clean up. Many of the site owners simply abandon them.

The federal government requires gas stations to carry $1 million in liability insurance to pay for cleanup costs. Gas stations can't operate without that insurance. Some private insurers provide this insurance to gas stations on a market basis, but only after a careful risk assessment and only if the tanks are less than 20 years old. Tanks are at high risk of leaking after 25 years, and the risk grows with every passing year.

Thirty-six states provide gas stations the insurance they need to meet federal requirements, but without requiring risk assessments, newer tanks, or insurance premiums sufficient to pay for the cleanup of the soil and groundwater contamination that leaking tanks cause. These state insurance funds constitute an enormous, critical, and unseen subsidy to the oil industry. Another major result of lax state insurance programs is that about half of the operating gas stations in the US now have underground storage tanks that are overdue for replacement and/or are leaking.  

For many years, Washington state has provided heavily subsidized insurance guarantees to gas stations without requiring that they replace their aging tanks or undergo a rigorous risk assessment. The result is that Washington's gas stations' underground storage tanks are the oldest and riskiest in the U.S., with an average age of more than 28 years.  

The state's old insurance guarantee program is failing, and now a bill advancing in the Washington legislature, HB 1175, would provide the $1 million federal liability insurance requirement for gas stations without a risk assessment and without requiring that they modernize their aging tanks. Further, the state is providing this insurance at only a small fraction of the cost that private insurers would require to insure similar risks. This bill would cause the state to assume more than $1 billion in liabilities of Washington state gas stations. As the EV transition advances and thousands of contaminated gas stations shut down, the state fund is sure to become insolvent.

What can be done? Washington residents can contact the bill sponsor, Rep. Beth Doglio, and ask her to replace this bill with one that takes a comprehensive approach to the present and future of gas stations. Such a bill would: (1) require all gas stations participating in the state insurance fund to undergo full environmental assessments and have modern underground storage tanks; (2) shut down those gas stations that have active gasoline leaks or at are high risk of leaking; (3) require that the oil industry, not the general public, pay the costs of gas station cleanups; and (4) plan for a future in which gasoline sales are declining rapidly.

Coltura’s law review article, Governing the Gasoline Spigot, analyzes opportunities for improving the regulation of gas stations. It proposes that states revoke gas station subsidies, prepare now for the rapid decommissioning and cleanup of large numbers of gas stations,  and make plans for repurposing gas stations for uses that will better serve their communities.

Coltura's Gasoline Superusers
Approach Featured in Spectrum

Coltura’s work on superusers is making headlines. A recent article in IEEE's Spectrum focuses on the challenges in transitioning gasoline superusers—especially rural superusers—to EVs.

“Coltura asserts, instead of offering EV incentives to everyone who purchases an EV, generous incentives should instead be targeted at the estimated 25 million gasoline superusers. Getting these superusers into EVs as soon as possible, Coltura argues, is essential for the United States to reach its 2030 decarbonization objectives." Read the full article here.

California EVs: Great Start,
But What About the Gasoline?

California’s Governor Newsom released an announcement that Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) made up 18.8% of all new cars sold in California last year. This is great news. But it’s a bit misleading. New car sales are very different from total cars on the road. In California, electric vehicles still make up only 2.5% of total cars on the road. The more important question is, is California on track to cut gasoline use in half by 2030 in keeping with climate goals?

The answer is, we need to do more. California drivers burned nearly 14 billion gallons of gasoline in 2022 – about the same annual amount as for the last decade. It’s time to focus on cutting gasoline use at speed and scale. Coltura’s proposal to prioritize assisting lower/moderate income families who are using the most gasoline make the switch to EVs would help. Come on, California! Keep it real, highlight the key metrics, maximize climate and equity impacts, and keep eyes on the prize: gasoline!

Welcoming Doug Pearson to Coltura's Board


We are delighted to announce that Doug Pearson has joined Coltura’s Board of Directors. A native of England, Doug moved to the U.S. in 1989 to earn his Ph.D in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Michigan. Since 1996 he has been living in Seattle, where he and his wife raised their daughter. Doug is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded and is now the CTO of FlowPlay, an online games company featuring four online game worlds with hundreds of thousands of players each day. 

Doug says, “I've recently joined the board at Coltura because I believe climate change is the greatest challenge facing us today and Coltura has been remarkably successful at producing real policy change in a highly polarized world. I'm hoping that my technical background can be of some use as we start to explore new data-driven approaches to persuading people to move on from the gasoline-powered life of our parents’ generation and move to more sustainable options for our children.” We are very grateful to have Doug aboard.

Car Companies Continue to Underinvest in EVs

When will legacy car companies go all in on EVs? Not quite yet.

As reported by CleanTechnica, Ford failed to forecast the demand for their Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. Because of this, they have already closed orders for their 2023 trucks. Things are not much better with Ford's competitors. Electrek reports that GM has allocated only 10% of a new $860 billion investment into EV development, despite its strong EV sales and proclaimed readiness for the electric car future.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to cut gasoline use in half by 2030. Who is going to produce the cars to displace all that gasoline? Policies prioritizing the biggest gasoline users’ switch to EVs will help maximize the climate impact of the current limited supply of EVs, but car companies are going to need to step up their EV production to meet demand, both for gasoline superusers and other drivers seeking to go electric.

Gas Station of the Month: MFA, Aurora, Missouri

Residents of Aurora, Missouri complained about strong gasoline smells, and reported having to receive medical care including visits to the emergency room. When government officials finally responded, they found that gasoline from a local gas station was leaking into the land and sewer system. The problems are severe enough that the station remains closed two months later.

Electric micro-cars: the next big (tiny) thing?

Low cost, street legal, cruising along at 25 mph, with a 70-mile range and no tailpipe emissions – what could it be? Micro-car, mini-EV, tiny car, NEV (neighborhood electric vehicle), LSVs (low-speed vehicle) – whatever you call it, it’s definitely NOT a golf cart. It’s perfectly adequate to cover the average of 39 miles a day driven in the US. And some even come with their own solar roof. With prices starting under $10,000, what’s not to love? 

 Transitioning to EVs Will
Save Most Households Money

A new study in Environmental Research Letters shows that 90% of households with vehicles in the US would spend less on transportation fuel if they switched to EVs. Coltura’s work has shown that these savings are especially dramatic for gasoline superusers (those in the top 10% of gasoline use), who often spend more than a fifth of their income on gasoline.

Help With Your New Year’s Resolutions

It may be true that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail, but your resolution to do more to fight climate change is one you can easily keep by supporting Coltura. Scientists say we must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Burning gasoline is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions in the U.S.

A gift to Coltura today helps us continue our push beyond gasoline to cleaner alternatives. Coltura is the only organization focused on making deep, rapid, and permanent cuts in gasoline use while improving quality of life for all.

Join us by donating today, and keep your most important resolution of all.

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