Study: State is regulating service-station vapors like it's 1990

Washington has lagged in responding to improvements in vehicle technology, a preliminary report suggests.
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Fuels pumps at a service station

Washington has lagged in responding to improvements in vehicle technology, a preliminary report suggests.

Across Washington state, the methods for controlling gasoline vapors at filling stations are covered by a hodgepodge of regulations, including requirements designed for outdated technology. A preliminary report to a House-Senate committee recommends updating and consolidating the current mishmash of rules.

The Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee received that draft report from its staff Wednesday, with a final document expected in January.

Washington has roughly 2,000 gas stations, including about 1,300 in the Puget Sound area. Underground gasoline tanks serving the pumps and vehicle gas tanks each contain combinations of liquid fuel and gasoline vapors. A 1990 federal law required 27 states, including Washington, to install hoses at each pump with two tubes inside each. One tube pumps the gasoline into a vehicle. The second tube takes the vapors in a vehicle's tank that are displaced by the incoming fuel and channels those vapors into the underground gasoline tanks at the filling stations.

Washington also has a hodgepodge of clean air authorities — covering one county, or multiple counties, or areas smaller than a county, said JLARC research analyst Zane Potter. The counties with no clean air agencies are covered by the Washington Department of Ecology. These agencies – by visual or equipment observation -- inspect how effectively the gas vapors are handled at the fuel pumps. But the inspection methods vary from agency to agency. Also, the times between inspections vary from agency to agency, ranging from six months to five years. And the costs of the annual inspections levied on the gas stations are determined in different ways in different counties, ranging from $251 per gas station per year to $919 a year.

As time has passed, vehicle gas tanks have been redesigned to deal with the vapors displaced in them by the incoming fuel — meaning the two-tube pumping hoses are no longer needed. That's because most vehicles built after 2006 have the new in-vehicle vapor-disposal designs, Potter said. That led to the federal government no longer requiring the two-tube hoses at Washington's gas stations. But Washington is the only state left that has not tackled revisions on this matter.

The JLARC's staff recommended the state government study whether the two-tube hoses should be kept statewide, with both the economic and vapor issues being analyzed.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8