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June 04, 2013
Senate passes SPCC relief for farms

As of May 10, 2013, farms are required to be in compliance with the national oil spill prevention, control, and countermeasure (SPCC) rule, but relief for some farmers took a major step in Congress with the Senate passage of a bill that would expand the exemption from the rule. 

1,320-gallon threshold

Under current regulations, a farm must have an SPCC plan if it stores oil in aboveground tanks with an aggregate of 1,320 gallons (gal) or more or in completely buried tanks with more than 42,000 gal of aggregate capacity.  In calculating aboveground aggregate capacity, only containers that can hold up to 55 gal are counted.  Also, farmers with 10,000 gal or less of aboveground capacity and good spill control (as defined in the regulations) over the previous 3 years may self-certify their SPCC plans.  Otherwise, the plan must be certified by a professional engineer (PE).

Introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AK), the expanded exemption was tacked on to the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (S. 601), which passed in the Senate on May 15, 2013.   Farmers and their supporters have contended for years that the SPCC program was intended for the petroleum industry and that farms got swept into the requirements because Congress was not diligent about exempting them.  One of the problems with the existing requirements is that noncompliance is expected to be widespread, placing enormous burdens on state and federal inspectors and pulling resources from other programs that protect water quality. 

Also, the requirement to have some SPCC plans certified by a PE has stalled compliance in areas of the country where a limited number of PEs are in high demand.  The bill is intended to partially correct these problems. 

House action needed

The House will need to consider the following provisions in the Senate bill, which therefore may be revised in any final report that is sent to the White House.

  • A PE must certify the SPCC plan for farms with:
    • An individual tank with an aboveground storage capacity of more than 10,000 gal;
    • Aggregate aboveground storage capacity greater than or equal to 20,000 gal; or
    • A reportable oil discharge history.
  • The owner of a farm may self-certify the plan if the farm has:
    • An aggregate aboveground storage capacity between 6,001 and 20,000 gal; and
    • No reportable oil discharge history.
  • The owner of a farm is not required to certify compliance with the SPCC rule if the farm:
    • Has an aggregate aboveground storage capacity between 2,500 and 6,000 gal; and
    • Has no reportable oil discharge history.
  • The owner of a farm is not required to certify compliance with the rule if the farm has an aggregate aboveground capacity of not more than 2,500 gal. 

The bill would also exempt any oil storage container from the calculation of aggregate aboveground storage capacity if the container is on an area identified by the owner as a separate parcel based on how it is operated and if the container has a capacity of 1,000 gal or less.

The Senate provisions are in Title XIII, Section 13001, of the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, (S. 601).

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