EPA questioned on SPCC authority

Permanent legislative fix likely won't get done before EPA says it will retroactively begin to pursue enforcement of spill rule.

Sens. James Inhofe., R., Okla., and Mark Pryor, D., Ark., sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy on Aug. 20 asking for EPA's clarification of their authority, under current appropriations legislation, that prohibits the agency temporarily from enforcing the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule for the aboveground storage of oil on farms. 

The letter stated that Congress has clearly established its intent to limit the impact of the SPCC rule on the agriculture sector, and to ultimately exempt the majority of it from having to comply. However, EPA has stated their intention to carry out enforcement retroactively to the May 10 compliance deadline as soon as the funding hold in the appropriations bill is lifted Sept. 23, 2013. Inhofe and Pryor stated their view that any action of this nature on EPA's part will go against the intent of Congress which has language in at least two pending bills to exempt or partially exempt farms from this regulation.

A permanent fix to the SPCC rule could come in one of two ways, but both are not likely to be accomplished until after the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn., said in its weekly Beltway Beef newsletter. The first avenue for permanence is in the conference agreement surrounding the 2013 Farm Bill.

On June 19, Rep. Rick Crawford, R., Ark., successfully had an amendment added to the House version of the farm bill which raises the exemption level for farms from 1,320 gallons of aggregate fuel to 10,000 gallons. It also raises the self-certification level to 42,000 gallons and exempts feed ingredient tanks from the “aggregate fuel storage” calculation.

The provision was passed out of the House on July 11 but the two chambers have yet to begin the conference committee on the farm bill. After those negotiations the final package will need to be passed by both chambers so the timeframe is still unclear when a final farm bill may be sent to the President.

On the Senate side, Inhofe and Pryor successfully negotiated the inclusion of a similar provision in the Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) on May 8. While not as strong as the House Farm Bill provision, the Senate WRDA provision does raise the exemption level from 1,320 gallons to 6,000 gallons (subject to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA that could lower the level to 2,500 gallons depending on the findings), raises the self-certification level to 20,000 gallons aggregate fuel storage and includes the exemption for feed ingredient tanks.

Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the House will take up a similar provision in its version of WRDA, which is scheduled to come up in the House in the next two months.

Ashley McDonald, deputy environmental counsel for NCBA, said, “It is a priority for NCBA to have a strong provision included in the House WRDA bill if the House moves forward with consideration of the WRDA bill before a final farm bill is done.”

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