EPA is “largely unaware of the identity and compliance status of the vast majority” of facilities required under Section 311 of the Clean Water Act to have spill prevention, control, and countermeasures (SPCC) plans and facility response plans (FRPs).
That is the principle finding made by EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) in response to a request from the House Committee on Transportation to determine (1) which steps EPA has taken to ensure the quality and consistency of SPCC plans and (2) how EPA tracks SPCC and FRP violations and violators.
CWA Section 311 provides EPA with the authority to regulate non-transportation onshore facilities that could reasonably be expected to discharge oil into navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines. An SPCC plan must outline procedures, methods, and equipment to prevent spills from occurring and countermeasures to address the effects of an oil spill. EPA estimates that the SPCC criteria apply to approximately 640,000 facilities. A subset of higher-risk SPCC facilities for which a discharge of oil could reasonably be expected to cause substantial harm to the environment must prepare and submit FRPs for responding to a worst-case discharge of oil and a substantial threat of such a discharge.
In addition to finding holes in EPA’s knowledge of the SPCC/FRP universe, OIG said Agency data systems cannot exchange data with each other and lack consistent and sufficient codes to categorize deficiencies and noncompliance. These limitations prevent EPA from capturing the full details of a violator’s history or identifying trends in compliance and enforcement. As a result, EPA cannot assess the success of steps it has taken to improve the quality and consistency of SPCC plans, FRPs, or the oil pollution prevention program as a whole.
Among OIG’s specific findings:
- Individual regional SPCC/FRP databases contained fewer than 25,000 records for facilities regulated by CWA Section 311 (representing approximately 4 percent of the estimated SPCC universe).
- EPA regional offices admit they are still missing plans for many FRP facilities or have not received updated plans.
- EPA’s Office of Emergency Response says it has been unable to address a 2008 recommendation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze options for obtaining key data about the regulated universe.
- EPA regions have attempted to increase their knowledge of SPCC and FRP facilities by using state aboveground storage tank databases, industry databases (e.g., Dun and Bradstreet), and other federal agency databases, but state databases are incompatible with EPA’s databases for identifying regulated facilities. Other challenges to using state databases include states using different facility identification numbers, not tracking information about tanks that store animal fat and vegetable oil, or having higher tank/equipment capacity thresholds than the federal SPCC/FRP program.
OIG recognizes that EPA has taken a number of steps to improve the quality and consistency of SPCC plans and FRPs, including tailoring and streamlining regulatory requirements for certain qualified facilities, publishing guidance on preparing and implementing plans, providing compliance assistance at a facility owner/operator’s request, and pursuing enforcement actions for violations. But the Agency’s limited knowledge of facilities regulated by the oil pollution prevention program prevents the Agency from assessing the overall effectiveness of the program, say OIG.
OIG recommends that EPA improve oversight by biennially assessing and reporting on the quality and consistency of SPCC plans and FRPs, implementing a risk-based inspection strategy, updating guidance, and consistently interpreting SPCC and FRP regulations. OIG further recommends that two EPA assistant administrators work together to establish a national oil program database that contains compliance histories for regulated facilities, can track compliance trends, and exchanges data with other EPA databases.
EPA responded to a draft of OIG’s report by stating it believes that it is implementing an effective program to prevent and mitigate oil spills, given its “limited resources.” The Agency disagreed with OIG’s allegation that SPCC/FRP regulations were being inconsistently interpreted by regional offices.
OIG’s report is at http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2012/20120206-12-P-0253.pdf.