Senate Amends EPA Spill Rules for Oil Storages
May 15, 2013
The U.S. Senate has taken a step toward loosening tight regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on above-ground on-farm oil storages. The present exemption threshold of 1,320 gallons of aggregate oil-storage capacity on a farm would be raised to 2,500 gallons, and costly certification requirements for spill containment structures would become less strict. The rules cover both petroleum and non-petroleum oil storages.
The Senate action is still far from making its way into law, however. It was an amendment to the reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that was passed May 8. The House has not begun to consider WRDA legislation yet, and a separate bill to ease on-farm oil-storage regulations is still in committee.
The EPA’s rule, termed Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures (SPCC), has been in place for 40 years. For on-farm storages it had a 10,000-gallon exemption threshold from 2006 until a 2009 change to a 1,320-gallon threshold that did not become enforceable until last week. The SPCC rule requires a containment dike or basin that can hold 110% of the storage capacity. The containment structure has to be inspected and certified by a specially licensed professional engineer.
Less restrictive requirements were proposed last year in a bill termed the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act, which failed to pass. FUELS was re-introduced Mar. 7 and served as the basis for the Senate’s successful WRDA amendment last week. The Senate agreed that the tens of thousands of dollars in structural and certification costs would impose an unreasonable burden on smaller farmers, especially in light of lessened risks from smaller storages.
Besides the 2,500-gallon-or-less exemption, the amendment requires certification by a professional engineer only if the aggregate storage capacity is 20,001 gallons or more. Farm owners or operators with an aggregate capacity of 6,001 to 20,000 gallons would have to meet the containment requirements but would be allowed to self-certify that they have done so.
Those with aggregate capacities between 2,501 and 6,000 gallons would be exempt at least temporarily. The amendment provides that after the law is enacted, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have 12 months to study the issue and develop a “reasonable” exemption threshold somewhere between 2,501 and 6,000 gallons. The EPA would then have 18 months, including a public-comment period, to issue a final exemption threshold. That threshold would affect the self-certifying provision accordingly.
An additional condition of the Senate amendment is that any farm that has a history of oil spills would have to be certified by a specially licensed professional engineer.
Agricultural Leaders of Michigan (ALM), which includes Potato Growers of Michigan, Inc. (PGMI) among its members, urged support of the amendment by the state’s two Senators, who joined in the unanimous approval. An ALM letter to the Senators noted that the changes “better reflect the actual risk of oil spills on small farms and bring financial requirements into line with realistic expectations for small farmers.” Other ALM members besides PGMI are GreenStone Farm Credit Services, Michigan Milk Producers Association, Michigan Pork Producers Association, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Corn Growers Association, Michigan Soybean Association and Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, Inc.
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