Issue: The December 22 deadline has passed, but requirements for underground storage tanks remain ... Don't become complacent.
Owning and operating underground storage tanks (USTs) gives you control over fleet fuel costs, but it can also be your biggest environmental liability if you're not careful. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) deadline for upgrading, replacing, or removing USTs that were installed before 1988 was December 22, 1998. Upgraded or new replacement tanks must meet EPA requirements for corrosion, spill, and overfill protection.
If you haven't yet upgraded your facility's USTs to meet the new requirements, delay no more. Penalties for noncompliance can go as high as $11,000 per day, per violation.
According to the IRS, costs incurred by a company for the removal, cleaning, and disposal of the old underground storage tanks, as well as costs associated with filling and monitoring the new tanks, are tax-deductible.
If you temporarily closed your USTs in order to meet the deadline, remember that this solution is only good for 12 months. During this time, you must continue leak detection practices and monitoring of all non-empty USTs; any releases must be promptly reported and cleaned up.
If a UST is temporarily closed for more than three months, operators must cap and secure all other lines, pumps, man-ways, and ancillary equipment; vents should remain open. You must upgrade or remove these USTs before the 12-month period is over.
EPA has made it clear that its compliance efforts will focus on federal facilities, owners and operators of multiple UST facilities, large facilities with multiple USTs, and facilities that are endangering sensitive ecosystems or drinking-water sources. However, it's the states that have primary enforcement authority, and they're not bound by EPA policy.
EPA encourages fleets that have not met the deadline to take advantage of reduced penalties for fleets that disclose their own violations. But self-disclosure under the EPA audit policy does not protect you from state enforcement actions. So it might be a good idea to ask your state about its audit policy before disclosing any information.
And don't forget about the leak detection requirements that have been in effect since 1993. While inspectors are out enforcing the upgrade requirements, they'll also be looking for leak detection violations. Not only is leak detection the law, it can save you money by reducing fuel loss and eliminating costly cleanups.
If you have a new tank, for the first 10 years you can use monthly inventory control combined with a tank-tightness test every five years. For USTs under 1,000 gallons, monthly inventory control may be conducted manually. Requirements for all other USTs include automatic tank gauging and a computer program that performs statistical inventory reconciliation to analyze the results.
For USTs that are more than 10 years old, monthly monitoring is required; it can also be used with new tanks instead of inventory control. The space between double-walled tanks, groundwater wells, or soil vapors can be monitored. In addition to monitoring for leaks from the tank itself, piping must be monitored and tested for leaks. Pressurized piping must be tested annually, while suction piping may be tested every three years.
If you're relying on automatic gauging, it's important to realize that your system might contain computer chips vulnerable to the Year 2000 (Y2K) bug. Since EPA doesn't consider Y2K problems a valid excuse for noncompliance, check with your suppliers about Y2K status.
Remember, UST compliance can be a critical element in controlling your facility's environmental cost. A little money spent up-front can prevent big headaches later on.
Fern Abrams is the manager of environmental affairs at the American Trucking Assns. For more information, contact the author or Allen Schaeffer, ATA vice president of highway and environmental policy, at 703-838-1786 or e-mail [email protected]