Complying with SPCC: Hitting a Moving Target

EPA first promulgated the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule (40 Code of Federal Regulations 112) in 1973. It was prompted by some catastrophic oil spills and was intended to minimize the occurrence of oil spills and, if a spill or release did occur, to minimize environmental impacts. The SPCC rule, as it is commonly called, remained largely unchanged for almost 30 years, though EPA proposed and re-proposed numerous changes to it in the 1990s.

On July 17, 2002, EPA published final amendments to the SPCC rule. The 2002 amendments were prompted by the EPA's Burden Reduction Initiative and were intended to clarify the requirements and decrease regulatory burden by offering flexibility within the rule while preserving environmental protection. By EPA's own estimate, the SPCC rule affects more than 400,000 oil handling and storage facilities in the United States. Therefore, clarifying and simplifying the rule would reduce the compliance burden on many members of the regulated community.

Since July 2002, EPA has delayed or made further changes to the rule five times. Some of these changes have been postponements of effective dates and some have changed the language of the rule itself. These changes and delays have lead to some confusion among members of the regulated community. Some regulated facilities are confused about the nature of the changes, what exactly they are expected to do and by what dates. This confusion is understandable.

The preamble to the 2002 rule outlined the changes made at that time and compared them to the original rule. Many of the changes were reductions in burden. That is, they made the rule easier to implement. The less-burdensome changes went into effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register. Other changes (those that placed new or added requirements on the regulated facilities) were to become effective six to 12 months after publication. Only the changes that were additional or expanded requirements became effective later.

The current effective date for amending the SPCC plan and implementing it is July 1, 2009. However, this delayed date only applies to the increased or expanded compliance requirements. The delay does not affect the requirements for regulated facilities to have a written SPCC plan or to implement elements of the plan. Any facility that was regulated under the SPCC rule on Aug. 16, 2002 (unless it has changed its operations so that the Rule no longer applies) must have and maintain a written SPCC plan that complies with the original SPCC Rule. The requirement also applies to facilities that became regulated after Aug. 16, 2002.

The facility SPCC plan may take advantage of the relaxed requirements such as not accounting for containers of less than 55-gallon capacity and not needing a professional engineer (PE) certification (in certain cases). However, the facility must fully implement its plan including providing adequate secondary containment or other means for spill control (diversion structures, detention ponds, absorbents, etc.), conducting regular inspections and training of oil-handling employees.

The primary requirements, the effective dates of which have been delayed and are not currently in effect, are listed below.

  1. Integrity testing of aboveground bulk containers
  2. Use of the revised "Spill Notification Form" when reporting releases
  3. Evaluation of field-constructed containers undergoing repair, alternation or re-construction

The 2002 rule also made some changes in the requirements for an acceptable SPCC plan. Most of these changes were to loosen the severity of the rule but a few expanded or stiffened requirements. Primary among these are requirements to include in the plan:

  1. A diagram of the facility showing the locations of important oil handling containers, equipment and operations;
  2. A description of discharge prevention measures;
  3. A description of drainage controls;
  4. A description of countermeasures for discharge discovery and clean-up;
  5. A description of the methods to be used for disposal of recovered materials; and
  6. A list of important contact telephone numbers.

Finally, the 2002 amendments strengthened the standards for the PE's certification of the plan. The SPCC plan must be amended and these delayed requirements implemented by July 1, 2009. In the meantime, all regulated facilities must comply with the old and/or relaxed requirements for preparing a written SPCC plan and fully implementing that plan.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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