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 U.S. Waters At Risk From Milk Pollution?

Dairy farmers are up in arms over the EPA listing of milk as an oil based substance in conjunction with the Oil Pollution Prevention Control regulation (40 CFR 112) more commonly known as the SPCC reg. Anyone who has aboveground oil storage tanks with an aggregate capacity of 1,320 gallons or greater is required to have a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan. Most farmers have small tanks to store fuel and maintenance oils which must be figured into this aggregate capacity. They may also store other types of animal or vegetable fat which are classified as oil.

If farmers have to add milk storage tanks to this aggregate capacity, many of them would be required to develop an SPCC Plan. If a facility has one or more tanks with an aggregate capacity of 10,000 gallons or more, the SPCC Plan must be sealed by a Registered Professional Engineer. The cost to develop a sealed SPCC Plan averages $3,500 according to government research done several years ago. This is an expense that most dairy farmers cannot afford.

It is because of this expense and regulation that the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has requested that EPA exempt bulk milk storage from the SPCC rule. EPA, in theory, agreed to do this but typically it takes several months of comment period before a rule can be finalized. Meanwhile the deadline for complying with the SPCC rule was looming before farmers who had no idea which capacity category they were going to be regulated by.

Again the NMPF requested that EPA extend the compliance deadline so that everyone could figure out what they were supposed to be doing. This, of course, requires another comment period. If EPA finalizes the exemption and extends the deadline, it will be the seventh time the compliance date has been amended since the rule was published in July 2002. The original inclusion of milk as a polluting substance is typical of most EPA regulations. They are not thought through before they are published. The people who write the regulations are ensuring their job security by continuing this practice.