EPA Lists “General Aviation Gasoline” as a Source of Lead in the Air

In a November 16 news release, the EPA determined that 16 areas across the country are not meeting the agency’s national air quality standards for lead. These areas, located in 11 states, were designated as “nonattainment” because their 2007 to 2009 air quality monitoring data showed that they did not meet the agency’s health-based standards.  Areas designated today as not meeting the standard will need to develop and implement plans to reduce pollution to meet the lead standards. Nonattainment areas must meet the standards by Dec. 31, 2015.

There will be a second round of designations in October 2011 so if you’re not on the list now, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.  Most designations have been deferred because there is not enough data yet to make a determination.  This is the case in areas with lead associated with aviation gasoline (LL100).  Monitoring stations near airports have not been in place long enough to provide conclusive data. When looking at the data currently available, AOPA President and CEO Craig L. Fuller commented, “The entire general aviation community took a very hard look at the data the EPA presented and the questions they asked and concluded that our best input to EPA is to suggest that neither the situation nor their own findings suggest an endangerment finding is warranted.” 

This is likely to change when additional data is reviewed.  Evidence of this is the listing of general aviation gasoline in the November 16 news release as a source of lead in the air along with smelters and iron and steel foundries.  EPA has made their determination and has set out to prove it with data expected next year from air quality monitoring being conducted around airports.  Everyone from the EPA to the Avgas Coalition to General Aviation businesses knows this so the search for a replacement for unleaded Avgas continues.

What Does the SPCC Rule Deadline Really Mean?

Another deadline for updating SPCC Plans to new EPA Federal requirements is about to come and go.  Once again the EPA has extended the deadline for onshore facilities to comply with regulations that were published several years ago and amended several times.  What does this moving deadline really mean to most facilities that fall under this requirement? In reality, not much.  The bottom line is, if you have an SPCC Plan, you need to make sure it meets the rule requirements and is implemented as written.  If  you store over 1320 gallons of oil (petroleum based products, fuel, animal fat, vegetable fat, etc.) in aboveground tanks or over 42,000 gallons of oil in underground tanks and you don’t have a plan, you need one.  People get caught up in the letter of the law and forget that there is a purpose behind it.

The purpose of 40 CFR 112 – Oil Pollution Prevention, more commonly known as the SPCC Rule, is to prevent oil from discharging into U.S. navigable waters. In essence, if you can float a paper boat on it, the EPA considers it to be “navigable waters”.  While the bureaucracy behind the rule is excessive and convoluted, the purpose of the rule is a good thing.  Oil in any water is a bad thing for plants, animals and humans.  It chokes off life.  Sometimes, however, the EPA folks get a little carried away.

The most recent exception to the rule is milk which the EPA originally included in the list of oil containing substances.  Intense lobbying by the dairy farmers in the U.S. resulted in an exemption for milk.  Another exemption was given a while back for hot mix asphalt.  The reasoning behind this was that when hot mix asphalt hits the open air, it solidifies so rapidly that it can’t flow anywhere.

Stopping the flow of oil is what it’s all about.  A spill itself isn’t a terrible thing if it can be cleaned up before it hits surface water or seeps into ground water through the soil.  SPCC Plans are written so that when oil is spilled, people know how to stop it from flowing and how to clean it up quickly and efficiently.  Moving the deadline doesn’t mean industries that produce, manufacture or store oil get a pass for another year.

People, especially corporate bean counters, see an extension of the deadline and think they’re off the hook and don’t have to spend the money for an update to their SPCC Plan until next year.  While that may be true in theory, it’s similar to the old car maintenance advertisment where the mechanic says, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later”.  It’s true that the EPA can’t fine you right now if your SPCC Plan is not in compliance with the new regulations, but they can fine you if you pollute the navigable waters of the U.S.

Those fines can range from thousands of dollars to several million dollars depending on where you are and how much you spill.  DES Consultants writes SPCC Plans that are facility specific and meet the November 2011 deadline requirements.  Our plans are written in plain English; we don’t just restate the SPCC rule.  Our plans tell you how and where to stop a spill when it happens and who to call for help if you need it.  We also offer training for your employees so they clearly understand what to do if there is a spill.  Doesn’t it make sense to spend a small amount of money now and have the best SPCC Plan available?

Are the “Little Guys” fed up with the “Big Guys” and the Regulators? You Betcha!

There is a growing sentiment among pilots of some general aviation aircraft that what they call the “alphabets” (referring to the coalition formed by general aviation professional organizations) are not headed in the right direction to find a solution to the unleaded Avgas issue.  There is growing concern that not only will leaded Avgas (LL100) disappear but that Mogas (ethanol free unleaded automotive gasoline) will also.  Mogas is often the fuel of choice for pilots of smaller general aviation aircraft and light sport aircraft (LSA), mostly because it is less expensive and works well in their aircraft.

Mogas is becoming harder to find as the EPA pushes for use of more ethanol in all unleaded gasoline.  There is growing evidence that ethanol is causing deterioration of seals and corroding engine parts both in automobiles and boats.  Pilots fear if they are forced to use an unleaded blend containing ethanol that they will face the same problems.

One pilot who is voicing concerns is Kent Misegades, Cary, N.C., an aerospace engineer and aviation journalist.  He; along with Dean Billing, Sisters, Ore., an expert on autogas and ethanol; blogs on the General Aviation News web site.  In a recent post, Boaters unite to oppose ethanol; where are aviation’s leaders?, Misegades states,

“Unlike marine groups and their media, such as this article in Marlin, that have strongly and publicly advocated for a continued supply of ethanol-free fuel, our aviation alphabet groups have been largely silent, with the notable exception of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA). Since nearly 100% of all new LSA aircraft are powered by engines (Rotax, Jabiru, etc.) that are designed to best operate on 91 octane ethanol-free unleaded gasoline, LAMA has a strong interest in assuring a continued supply of Mogas.”

He goes on to say that “Ironically, the disappearance of Mogas, the affordable, unleaded avgas, as an option for pilots, results in far greater use of leaded fuel than is necessary, contrary to the effort of the EPA to ban its use.”

Judging from the comments posted in response to his article, he is not alone in his opinion of the direction the coalition is taking in this matter.  Misegades calls for the leaders of the coalition to “… call on Congress to prohibit the blending of ethanol in premium gasoline …”which he says will preserve an option that will reduce leaded fuel consumption as well as the cost of flying  We will follow this issue and see if their voices are heard.