Congress puts brakes on EPA action: Farm oil spill enforcement delayed

By PEGGY KIRK HALL

COLUMBUS — Many farms are scrambling to meet the May 10 deadline for having an oil spill containment plan (SPCC plan) as required by EPA regulations, but Congress has quietly delayed the U.S. EPA’s ability to enforce the regulation.

Amendment 29 to the recently enacted funding bill, H.R. 933, 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, or until after Sept. 26, 2013.

Pollution prevention

The purpose of the U.S. EPA’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) program is to help facilities and farms prevent a discharge of oil into navigable waterways.

Program regulations affect farms that store more than 1,320 gallons of oil or oil products in aboveground containers or more than 42,000 gallons in completely buried containers — those farms are required to develop, maintain and implement an oil spill prevention plan by May 10.

The recent action by Congress, however, prevents the EPA from enforcing the plan until late September.

Also in the works

In the meantime, congressional efforts will focus on revising the SPCC rule as it applies to farm SPCC plans.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who sponsored the amendment to delay enforcement, has already co-sponsored a bill (S. 496) with Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., to provide more exemptions for small farms and help farms reduce compliance costs.

So what now?

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 May 10 deadline, contact legal counsel right away.

For those who have already developed SPCC plans, 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 risk.

For more information about the SPCC rule, visit www.epa.gov/OEM/content/spcc/spcc-ag.htm.

(The author is an assistant professor with the OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program.)

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