Proposed fuel storage fee assailed by loggers, truckers

A proposed new annual fee on storage of hazardous materials – including fuel oil – has sparked outraged among truckers, loggers and other small businesses already struggling to cover the rising price of diesel.

The bill – which was approved by the state House of Representatives in March and went through a Senate hearing earlier in April in Concord – would impose fees as high as $1,000 to fund, through the state Department of Safety, a hazardous materials emergency response team, which is about to lose its federal funding.

It also includes state reporting requirements, echoing those required by federal law but expanding them by encompassing business with smaller storage amounts – as little as 10,000 pounds (about 1,500 gallons).

According to the fiscal note attached to the bill the average fee – which wouldn’t take effect until 2009 – would be less than $420 per facility. For those storing less than 100,000 pounds of diesel (about 15,000 gallons) it would be $100.

It’s not so much the amount but the thought that counts, said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.

“This has struck a nerve,” he said. “With diesel going to $4 a gallon, this has caused a tremendous reaction to tack on anything further. Businesses are just trying to survive, so this is pretty emotional. The feeling is, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me that they can contemplate adding anything.’”

Many loggers, he said, buy diesel in bulk and store it on site as well as carry it with them into the forest, so they save some money and don’t have to waste gas fueling up. They will be hit particularly hard by the bill, said Stock.

But supporters of the bill said that without it, the $1.2 million that it would raise would instead have to be paid by the property-tax payer, who also can’t afford to pay much more.

And, they argued, it is only fair that those who store the waste should foot the bill when something goes wrong.

But Bob Sculley, president of the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, said that businesses are already footing the bill in several ways.

First, he said, many carry private insurance – which sometimes comes with premiums costing thousands of dollars – to pay for cleanup. He also said businesses already contribute to directly through property taxes, and truckers pay a penny-and-a-half-per-gallon fee into the oil discharge and disposal cleanup fund, which is used to clean underground storage tanks.

Indeed, House Bill 1426 – which would raise that fee slightly less than a quarter of a cent – also passed the House last month and is making its way through the Senate.