State nets $18.9 million for heating aid
MONTPELIER — Vermont’s Congressional Delegation recently secured $18.9 million dollars in federal funding for the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program. These funds will help 20,000 Vermont households keep warm this winter. Low-income households across Vermont can expect to receive an average of $879 to assist with winter heating costs.
As the temperatures drop, many Vermonters are filling their heating tanks. For some households, it may be the first time they have filled their tanks since the revised Act 76 aboveground storage tank (AST) rules went into effect on August 15. The revised rules require inspections of fuel tanks by August 15, 2020 and offer steps homeowners can take if their tank fails inspection.
In 2016, the Vermont General Assembly adopted Act No. 76, which required the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt rules to establish a mandatory inspection program for aboveground storage tanks. This program defines the inspection criteria and requirements for tagging tanks upon inspection failure, and offers ways to address noncompliant tanks. The rules were originally adopted to prevent fuel spills like those seen during Tropical Storm Irene, when thousands of gallons of fuel from over 100 tanks spilled into Vermont’s waterways and contaminated numerous businesses and homes.
While the average cost for tank repairs is $400, the average cost of cleanup for a tank spill is $16,000. With an average of 75 spills each year, Vermonters end up paying more than $1 million dollars annually in cleanup costs. The revised rules which require an inspection every three years will reduce costly cleanups by identifying tanks that are at risk of leaking or tipping over before a spill occurs.
Under the revised rules, tank inspections must be performed at the following times:
• Immediately after a new tank installation,
• Immediately after initial delivery of fuel to a new tank system,
• Prior to the initial delivery of fuel when the tank owner switches fuel carriers,
• If not otherwise required by any of the above circumstances, the tank system shall be inspected once every three years; and
• Upon removal of a tank system.
If a tank does not meet inspection requirements, indicating that the tank has failed or is likely to fail, the tank will be ‘red-tagged.’ Because of the risk of a spill, the tank cannot be filled by a fuel truck until the tank is repaired or replaced. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association (VFDA) are working together to ensure every Vermonter has access to heating fuel and a safe fuel tank. DEC and VFDA are encouraging fuel dealers to conduct routine inspections during the spring and summer when there is ample time to secure financial assistance and make repairs.
If dangerous tanks are encountered in the winter months and need to be ‘red-tagged,’ fuel companies can work with homeowners to install a temporary tank until the tank is replaced or repaired. A red-tagged tank can also be filled by hand with small amounts of fuel until the dangerous tank can be repaired or replaced. To review DEC guidance on hand-filling to ensure this process is done safely, visit tinyurl.com/ycjlbxsc.
DCF runs the Weatherization Program and has allocated $100,000 to respond to “heating emergency” situations that may result from red-tagged tanks this winter, and has an additional $750,000 available for other types of heating emergencies. DEC manages the Petroleum Cleanup Fund financial assistance program. This fund helps 300 Vermonters upgrade or replace their tanks every year.
For homeowners seeking financial assistance to help with the cost of fixing or replacing a red-tagged tank, here are four places to start:
• The Vermont Petroleum Cleanup Fund offers financial assistance to low-income residential tank owners for the removal, replacement and upgrade of an aboveground fuel oil storage tank. Go to tinyurl.com/y8d9rhgd or call 802-828-1138 for more information.
• The Emergency Furnace Repair and Replacement Program operated by the Office of Economic Opportunity can assist with financing the repair or replacement of a red tagged tank. Contact your local Community Action Agency for more information.
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a Rural Economic Development loan and grant program for low income households. Go to rd.usda.gov for more information.
• Green Energy Improvement Loan offered by VSECU is a low-income loan for tank replacements. Go to vsecu.org or call 800-371-5162 for more information.
Beyond the winter season, DEC, DCF, and VFDA will continue to work with homeowners to provide financial assistance to repair or replace unsafe fuel tanks, and to reduce the cost of avoidable fuel spills for all Vermonters.