EPA Proposes Operator Training, Stronger Containment Regulations for Storage Tanks

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By Avery Fellow

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to strengthen regulations governing underground storage tanks, adding new rules for backup containment and extending training requirements to more storage tank owners and operators (76 Fed. Reg. 71,708).

State agencies that accept federal UST grant money are required under current regulations to set operator training requirements under the Energy Policy Act, but the requirements do not cover underground tanks on tribal lands and in states that do not accept federal funds.

The proposed revisions would implement training requirements nationwide.

The proposed regulations would apply to tanks that hold petroleum or hazardous chemicals, which are regulated under Subtitle I of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They would not affect underground storage tanks containing hazardous waste, which are regulated under RCRA Subtitle C.

The proposed revisions are designed to better prevent and detect leaks from UST systems, which can cause groundwater contamination, EPA said. The proposal represents the first major revisions to federal UST regulations since 1988.

The proposed rule at 40 C.F.R. Part 280 includes periodic testing of UST system components. The 1988 regulations required tank owners and operators to have spill, overfill, and leak detection equipment, but did not have operation and maintenance requirements for some of that equipment.

EPA published the proposed rule Nov. 18. The agency expects to issue a final rule in 2013, an agency spokeswoman told BNA Nov. 21.

There are approximately 595,000 active USTs at an estimated 214,000 sites in the United States, according to EPA.

EPA estimates that the compliance costs of the proposed rule would amount to $210 million annually, but said the proposal would lead to $300 million to $770 million in avoided remediation costs. Motor fuel retailers, which account for approximately 80 percent of UST systems, are expected to bear a majority of the cost.

EPA Adds Training Requirements

The proposed rule would impose minimum training requirements for three classes of UST operators. The revisions would reflect existing requirements for state operator training programs contained in EPA grant guidelines.

Class A operators, which are primarily responsible for a UST system and typically manage resources and personnel, would be required to be trained on spill and overfill prevention, release detection, corrosion protection, emergency response, notification and storage tank registration, temporary and permanent closure, and other issues.

Class B operators, which typically perform day-to-day operation, maintenance, and recordkeeping duties, would be required to receive training on system operation and maintenance, release detection and reporting, corrosion protection and testing, and other issues.

Class C operators, which typically dispense or sell substances contained in USTs, such as petroleum at filling stations, must be trained on emergency response to UST system spills or leaks.

The training requirements would go into effect over the next one to three years, depending on when the regulated storage tanks were installed.

Rule Would Mandate Secondary Containment

The proposed rule would add secondary containment and monitoring requirements for new and replaced tanks and piping.

Owners and operators would be required to use equipment to catch spills when installing new dispenser systems.

Additionally, owners and operators would be required to perform monthly walk-through inspections to examine spill prevention, leak detection, and other equipment. Spill prevention equipment would have to be tested annually or, alternatively, owners would have to monitor equipment continuously.

Owners and operators would also be required to test leak detection equipment every year and test overfill prevention equipment and secondary containment areas every three years. The 1988 regulations do not require regular testing of leak detection and overfill equipment, EPA said.

The proposed rule also would remove certain exemptions from leak detection requirements for tanks that store fuel for use by emergency power generators, wastewater treatment tanks, airport hydrant fuel distribution systems, and tanks that are constructed on-site. The tanks were exempted from leak detection requirements under the 1988 rules because the technology was not available to monitor the systems, EPA said, but the technology is now available.

Comments Due in February

EPA also is proposing to update requirements for states seeking to obtain EPA approval of state storage tank programs. States would have to adopt the regulations in order to be approved. A total of 37 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have approved programs.

Comments on the proposed rule are due Feb. 16, 2012. Comments may be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-UST-2011-0301.

Approximately 7,000 cases of petroleum and hazardous substances leaking from UST systems are discovered each year, according to 2009 EPA data. Leaks from piping, spills, and overfills during delivery are the most common emerging problem, EPA said.

Leak detection equipment is only catching about half of leaks, EPA said, partly due to improper operation and maintenance. The proposed regulations are designed to improve operation and maintenance of UST systems, the agency said.


EPA's proposed rule for revising underground storage tank regulations is available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2011-29293.pdf .

For more information on the proposed rule, contact EPA's Elizabeth McDermott at (703) 603-7175 or mcdermott.elizabeth@epa.gov .