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?