The month of May has brought a nice stretch of weather for our farmers in northeast Ohio. This has allowed our farmers to get thousands of acres of corn in the ground. Let's hope our nice weather continues for the remainder of the month.
Besides getting some crops in the ground, some of our farmers have been scrambling to meet the Friday deadline for having an oil spill containment plan (SPCC plan) as required by EPA regulations.
However, Congress has given our farmers a reprieve by quietly delaying the U.S. EPA's ability to enforce the regulation through Amendment 29 of the recently enacted funding bill, House Resolution 933. This amendment states the U.S. EPA may not use any of its funds to enforce the SPCC rule against farms for a period of 180 days, until after Sept. 26.
So while this ruling does not currently exempt farmers from having a SPCC plan, it does give them a few more months to develop a plan. This is good considering the rush of planting season is upon us.
So what is this new mandate all about? Farms that have more than 1,320 gallons above-ground storage or 42,000 or more of oil, gas or diesel fuel are subject to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure regulation (40 CFR Part 112). This includes all containers 55 gallons or greater. This means that farmers with as few as three above-ground 550-gallon gasoline and / or diesel fuel storage tanks may be subject to these regulations.
Two basic requirements need to be met to comply. The first is having sufficient secondary containment for storage and transfer areas to contain any spillage. The containment area is designed to prevent discharge until cleanup can occur and is usually designed to hold 110 percent of the largest container or tank in the area.
The second requirement is to prepare and implement a written SPCC plan that covers all of the steps the farm has taken to prevent discharges into the environment. The plan must be updated every five years or in the event of a major re-design of the area. Any employees handling oil and petroleum products must be trained on what the plan involves.
Some farms may need to have their plan approved by a professional engineer. If on-farm storage is between 1,320 and 10,000 gallons, you are allowed to prepare and self-certify if you have not had any spills of 1,000 gallons or more at once or less than two discharges of more than 42 gallons in the last year. Also, if secondary containment is not practical or alternative methods of diking or secondary containment are to be used, a professional engineer will need to certify.
Upon completion of the plan, it must be kept on site. It does not need to be sent to EPA but may be requested if a major discharge event occurs.
What should farmers do now about SPCC plans? The future of the SPCC rule is uncertain, but we do know that the current deadline of May 10 can't be enforced by the EPA. Farmers who are currently subject to the regulation must decide whether to proceed with compliance and be prepared for a possible September deadline, or wait and see if Congress changes SPCC requirements before the end of September.
If a farmer is subject to an attempted enforcement action after the deadline Friday, contact legal counsel right away.
For those who have already developed SPCC plans, be assured that the plan may still be required in the future and could also be a useful tool for reacting to an oil spill that could contaminate a waterway and reducing your environmental liability.
David Marrison is associate professor and extension educator, agriculture and natural resources, Ohio State University Extension. He can be reached at 440-576-9008 or firstname.lastname@example.org