Failed gas station cleanups costly
The collapse of the gas stations owned by the family of Vice President Mike Pence has forced states to pay tens of millions of dollars to fix up more than 85 contaminated sites.
GARDEN CITY, Ind. — Vice President Mike Pence turns nostalgic when he talks about growing up in small-town Columbus, Ind., where his father helped build an empire of more than 200 gas stations that provided an upbringing on the “front row of the American dream.”
The collapse of Kiel Bros. Oil Co. in 2004 was widely publicized. Less known is that the state of Indiana — and, to a smaller extent, Kentucky and Illinois — are still on the hook for millions of dollars to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites across the three states, including underground tanks that leaked toxic chemicals into soil, streams and wells.
Indiana alone has spent at least $21 million on the cleanup thus far, or an average of about $500,000 per site, according to an analysis of records by the Associated Press. And the work is nowhere near complete.
The federal government, meanwhile, plans to clean up a plume of cancer-causing solvent discovered beneath a former Kiel Bros. station that threatens drinking water near the Pence family’s hometown.
To assess the pollution costs, the AP reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, tax statements, business filings and federal financial disclosures, as well as federal and state environmental records for Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. The total financial impact isn’t clear because Indiana officials have yet to release cost figures for 12 contaminated areas. Other records are incomplete, redacted or missing.
The public cleanup of more than 25 former Kiel Bros. sites in Kentucky and Illinois — where officials have done a better job keeping costs down — has been much less expensive, totaling about $1.7 million, according to an analysis of records obtained under each state’s public records law.
Kiel Bros. has paid for only a fraction of the overall effort. In court documents , the company cited a payment of $8.8 million in “indemnity and defense costs,” but also noted that $4.5 million of that amount came from the state.
A spokesman for Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management, which regulates gas stations, did not respond to a list of questions from the AP.
Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah called the findings “a years old issue” that the vice president has addressed before. She did not elaborate.
In a statement, Pence’s older brother Greg Pence — who was president of Kiel Bros. when it went bankrupt and is now running for Congress as a Republican — distanced himself from the cleanup costs.
“Greg Pence has had nothing to do with Kiel Bros since 2004,” campaign spokeswoman Molly Gillaspie said.
The fact that the company stuck taxpayers with the lion’s share of the cleanup bill rankles some observers, especially in light of the family’s reputation as budget hawks critical of government spending.
The Pence family, especially Greg Pence, has “some answering in public” to do, said A. James Barnes, an environmental law professor who served in highranking posts at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Ronald Reagan.
The collapse of the Pence family’s gas stations in 2004 have cost taxpayers in three states millions of dollars to clean up 85 contaminated sites.