EPA unveils underground storage tank compliance program initiatives

The Environmental Protection Agency may approach Congress to obtain more authority to regulate storage tank system components not under EPA jurisdiction, such as leak detection or other aboveground equipment, said a spokesman for the agency Tuesday. 'We haven't determined whether we need to amend regulations or go to Congress for additional authority,' said Timothy Fields Jr., assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.


The Environmental Protection Agency may ask Congress for more authority to regulate storage tank system components not under EPA jurisdiction, such as leak detection or other aboveground equipment, said a spokesman for the agency Tuesday.

"We haven't determined whether we need to amend regulations or go to Congress for additional authority," said Timothy Fields Jr., assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, adding that the agency would evaluate whether regulations were working and, if necessary, determine what changes should be made. It will also examine what improvements might be needed to improve the performance of tank systems.

Since the beginning of an EPA program launched in 1984 to address the threat to groundwater by chemical leaks from underground storage tanks, 1.4 million noncompliant storage tanks have been upgraded or replaced.

Over the next 3 years, the EPA will work to bring into compliance the remaining 15% of underground storage tanks and complete another 160,000 spill site cleanups. Fields said the EPA intends to "work aggressively" with government and industry to ensure that the remaining number of noncompliant tanks meet EPA standards by 2005.

Fields discussed details of EPA's four storage tank-related initiatives during a conference call Tuesday.

Under the first initiative, the EPA would focus on ways to clean up or redevelop the 200,000 abandoned or closed underground storage tank sites at brownfield sites. These fields, which include sites on private property, public property, tribal lands, and federal facilities, might qualify for cleanup and redevelopment.

As part of this initiative, Fields said the EPA would launch up to 50 pilot programs, offering $100,000 in funding for each pilot, in which partnerships between the EPA and state and local government would be created to evaluate and clean up sites and find new uses for tank sites. The EPA launched 10 of these pilots this year, and next year plans to solicit bids for the next 40 pilots.

The EPA's other initiatives include achieving compliance for the remaining 15% of storage tanks, or 100,000, that don't meet compliance with spill, overfill, and corrosion protection requirements set in 1998. This covers compliance for all underground storage tank systems, including those on private and public property as well as tribal lands and federal facilities.

Despite the progress in bringing the majority of underground storage tanks in compliance with EPA standards, the estimated operational compliance rate for equipment leak detection requirements is still estimated at 60%.

The national underground storage tank program also will focus on bringing the remaining 40% of tanks into leak detection compliance and taking the needed steps to ensure they remain compliant.

The EPA also will try to improve the quality of compliance data by encouraging the EPA regions to ensure that the number of compliant underground storage tanks is accurate and consistently measured.

A third initiative would focus on speeding up the pace of cleanups and increasing the number of sites cleaned up annually to above the current level of 22,000/year. Fields said that about 160,000 petroleum release areas nationwide on private, public, federal and tribal lands still remain in need of cleanup.

EPA will try to accelerate the level of cleanups through incentive-based programs such as paying contractors extra if they meet certain performance levels. EPA also will address the backlog of underground storage tank sights in need of cleanup. Some states have already adopted incentive-based approaches, Fields said, and the EPA would like to act as a "vessel for technology transfer" by encouraging other states to adopt the same strategy.

The last initiative calls for EPA to evaluate underground storage tank system performance. EPA had required underground storage tank owners and operators by Dec. 22, 1998, to meet new tank standards, upgrade, or close all substandard tanks. Despite these requirements, evidence indicates that releases of chemicals are still occurring from systems believed to be compliant.

Because of these leak problems from "compliant" tanks, the EPA may try to obtain more authority to regulate storage system components.

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