U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Issues Changes to Underground Storage Tank Regulations

On June 19, 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule revising the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations for underground storage tanks (USTs). The rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register. The regulatory changes take effect 90 days after the rule is published.

These are the first substatial changes that the EPA has made to the UST regulations since 1988. The revisions implement key portions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and also address the causes of ongoing releases from UST systems. EPA states that there are approximately 6,000 releases annually from UST systems, and that the most common causes occur in piping and are due to overfills associated with deliveries or releases at dispensers. The revisions are intended to address the causes of these releases. EPA also states that release detection equipment is only detecting about half of the releases they should detect and so it is promulgating revisions to the secondary containment and leak detection requirements.

EPA’s revisions to the UST regulations fall into four categories: (1) new requirements for operation and maintenance of UST systems; (2) addressing UST systems deferred in the 1988 regulations; (3) changes to improve release prevention and release detection; and (4) general updates to the 1988 UST regulations. The most significant changes address operator requirements and secondary containment. With respect to operator requirements, EPA established operator training requirements to ensure properly trained individuals operate all regulated UST systems. EPA has created three categories of UST operators – A, B, or C – that are defined by their level of responsibility. Operators must be trained to ensure they perform their duties in a way that prevents releases. Class A operators must be trained so that they can make informed decisions regarding compliance and determine whether appropriate people are performing the operation, maintenance, and recordkeeping requirements for UST systems. For Class B operators, the training program must teach and evaluate their knowledge and skills to implement UST regulatory requirements on typical UST system components or site-specific equipment at UST facilities. For Class C operators, the training program must teach and evaluate their knowledge to take appropriate action, including notifying appropriate authorities, in response to emergencies or alarms caused by spills or releases from UST systems.

EPA also added new requirements for secondary containment and interstitial monitoring of new and replaced tanks and piping along with under-dispenser containment (UDC) of new dispenser systems. Data from release sites show a higher number of releases from single walled tanks and piping when compared to secondarily contained systems. EPA believes the new requirements will prevent regulated substances from reaching the environment and ensure a consistent level of environmental protection for regulated UST systems. The secondary containment requirement applies to new or replaced underground tanks and piping regulated under Subtitle I, except those excluded by regulation in 40 C.F.R. Section 280.10(b) and those partially excluded by regulation in 40 C.F.R. Section 280.10(c). Petroleum and hazardous substance USTs must meet the secondary containment requirement with the corresponding use of interstitial monitoring for release detection. EPA is requiring owners and operators to install tank and piping secondary containment that: will contain regulated substances leaked from the primary containment until they are detected and removed; will prevent the release of regulated substances to the environment at any time during the operational life of the UST system; and is monitored for a leak at least once every 30 days using interstitial monitoring.

In addition, EPA is eliminating the deferrals for several types of UST systems. Consequently, USTs that are field-constructed tanks, part of airport hydrant fuel distribution systems or tanks used for storing fuel solely for emergency power generators will, on the rule’s effective date, become subject to regulation as USTs under the 40 C.F.R. Part 280 regulations. EPA is also partially excluding wastewater treatment tank systems that are not part of a wastewater treatment facility regulated under Sections 402 or 307(b) of the Clean Water Act, USTs containing radioactive material, and emergency generator UST systems at nuclear power plants.

– Christopher Bryant, Senior Consultant at Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.