Special Topics in Environmental Management

10 Things You Don’t Know About SPCC

1.  Emergency and back-up generators count toward your total aboveground oil storage capacity. Many facilities that aren’t true end users of oil might think they don’t have to worry about drafting an SPCC Plan, but if a facility has emergency and/or back-up generators the oil used to power those machines may be enough to trigger SPCC plan requirements.

Check out this Environmental Daily Advisor article to find out if your facility is required to have an SPCC plan.

2.  Congress defines oil, not EPA. EPA never wrote a formal definition of oil for SPCC regulations; they simply referred to Congress’ definition. Oil as defined by Congress includes petroleum as well as non-petroleum oils. This means animal fats and vegetable oils are oils under SPCC regulations.

For a comprehensive list of non-petroleum oils that fall under this definition, see this Environmental Daily Advisor article.


3.  Animal fats are SPCC-regulated oils, but not milk. Although milk is an animal fat, it is exempted by rule from SPCC regulations.

4.  Groundwater is “navigable water” under federal SPCC regulations. Just because your oil is not “reasonably expected” to spill directly into a lake, river, stream, etc., groundwater can connect to lakes, rivers, streams, etc., therefore it is included in the 2002 SPCC final rule preamble’s loose definition of a navigable water. The good news is that it is very rarely enforced by EPA. Watch out though because states may have stricter regulations and define “navigable water” more clearly. For example, Virginia regulations specifically call out groundwater in their definition of navigable waters for oil discharges.

5.  “Reasonable expectation” includes rain events.  A lot of facilities forget the effect rain could have on their oil’s ability to discharge to water. Just because there isn’t a reasonable expectation that oil could reach navigable waters during dry times doesn’t mean that can’t change when it rains. Be sure to think about rain events when making the determination of how a discharge could affect nearby waters.

6.  There are two types of “discharges” in SPCC regulations. 40 CFR 112.1(b) considers a “discharge” to be one that is harmful to public health and the environment as described in the oil spill regulations at 40 CFR 110. This type of discharge is a violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and must be reported to the National Response Center (NRC). It may also impact a facility’s ability to self-certify an SPCC Plan.

40 CFR 112.2 defines a “discharge” as any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, or dumping any amount of oil no matter where it occurs.  This type of discharge is NOT a violation of the CWA and does not have to be reported to the NRC (although it may be a violation and a reportable event under state or local regulations).


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7.  Underground storage tanks (USTs) can be exempted from SPCC regulations. Any UST that is regulated by 40 CFR 280 and 281 does not fall under SPCC regulations. However, for facilities that are otherwise regulated, exempted USTs must be identified on the facility diagram of the SPCC plan.

8.  Requests for extensions are allowed, but probably not a good idea. Any facility can submit a written request for more time to prepare, implement, and/or amend its SPCC Plan; however, it raises a huge red flag to EPA that your facility is out of compliance. If you insist on requesting an extension, proceed with caution.

 9.  Your facility diagram doesn’t have to be fancy. Your SPCC Plan is required to have a facility diagram (or sometimes also called a facility map) but there are not requirements around the format. Your diagram can be as simple as a hand drawing or as complicated as a CAD.

10.  Most facilities require a Tier II plan. According to EPA, 66 percent of the more than 650,000 regulated facilities are Tier II facilities and are eligible to more streamlined SPCC requirements. The big difference here is that Tier II facilities have to write a full-blown SPCC plan, BUT do not have to have it certified by a licensed professional engineer (PE) and may self-certify their plan.

See tomorrow’s Advisor for more information about the SPCC Tier plans.