Special Topics in Environmental Management

More SPCC Q&As

In terms of SPCC regulations, are there any broader or stricter views of the definition, for example, of navigable waterway?

The definition of “navigable waterways” has not been expressly addressed in the new rule revisions. EPA has always held a very broad definition of what navigable waterways meant. I’ve seen very few facilities that could successfully argue that they didn’t need to have an SPCC plan because there was no chance that an oil spill from their site could get to navigable waters. First of all, stormwater systems and stormwater conveyances are all considered to be connected to navigable waters, so if you have a storm sewer opening on your property or at the edge of your site, that is counted or has been counted by regulatory agencies to mean that you could impact navigable waters. If you have any kind of a ditch or drainage swale that’s connected to local surface watercourses, that gives you the potential to be able to impact navigable waters. If you were going to try to claim that you didn’t need an SPCC plan because you couldn’t impact navigable waters, you have to be able to defend that assertion pretty clearly. There would have to be some really, really good reason why that was true—that you could point to. Because I think that, in my experience, the assumption is that pretty much every facility has that potential.

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How is the definition of “navigable water” viewed in relation to groundwater?

The SPCC rule doesn’t expressly address groundwater contamination, and that issue varies really highly. There are states and localities that have specific groundwater rules. The SPCC rule is part of the Clean Water Act, and if you had a release that impacted a surface water body through the groundwater, they would probably try to figure out a way to stop you from doing that. However, groundwater is not expressly addressed, and groundwater is not navigable water.

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Is it true that volumes of products that are stored in underground tanks do not count toward volumes for the SPCC plan requirements even if the product transfers or dispensers are aboveground?

If you have more than 42,000 gal of oil in underground tanks, that does trigger the requirement for an SPCC plan. So there is a threshold, but it’s higher. If your facility is required to develop an SPCC plan, the transfer of oil and dispensing oil from underground tanks would be a covered SPCC activity because that’s an oil transfer. And your plan would have to address procedures for that, and you would have to provide secondary containment or equivalent active measures to show that you were going to control the potential releases from that transfer activity.