WASHINGTON — Farmers need more time and additional guidance in order to comply with new federal regulations intended to protect water sources from possible oil spills.
That is the position of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators.
Cochran, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, is among the 33 Senators who have sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson asking that more time be allotted for implementation of the Oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule.
The EPA has proposed extending the SPCC compliance date to November 2011 and limiting the new rule to farms that went into business after August 2002. However, the letter to Jackson outlines concern that too little has been done by the EPA to alert the agriculture community of steps needed to comply with the SPCC regulations.
“Many farmers in Mississippi are dealing with the aftermath of flooding, as well as drought situations. The oil spill regulations will pose a new challenge for many of them. We are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to allow more time for these farms to be compliant with those regulations,” Cochran said.
SPCC regulations are applicable to facilities, including farms, with an aggregate above-ground oil storage capacity of 1,320 gallons in tanks of 55 gallons or greater. The SPCC regulations require these farms and other facilities to have an oil spill-prevention plan to avoid spills that can damage water resources.
“To comply with this rule, farms where there is a risk of spilled oil reaching navigable waters may need to undertake costly engineering services, as well as infrastructure improvements, to assure compliance with the regulation. Despite setting stringent standards, the EPA has done little to make sure farms can meet the requirements set forth in the SPCC rule,” the senators wrote to Jackson. “We strongly believe farmers want to be in compliance with the rule, but in order to do so, they will need a longer period during which EPA undertakes a vigorous outreach effort with the agriculture community.”
The correspondence states that the EPA must clarify how it intends to enforce the rule. It also points to the scarcity of professional engineers in many rural areas, the lack of which would make it “impossible for farmers to become SPCC compliant.”
The senators also noted that additional uncertainty regarding the SPCC rules has been generated from a separate draft guidance document issued by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that could broaden the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act and, as a result, make more farms subject to the SPCC regulations.
“We respectfully request that you reconsider the implementation deadline, continue to dialogue with the agriculture community to answer their questions, and ensure that the rule is not overly burdensome or confusing. We believe this will help avoid the rule’s unintended consequences,” the senators told Jackson.
The letter was authored by Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Source: Sen. Thad Cochran