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Court Orders New EPA Spill Prevention Rules


By E. Lynn Grayson


EPA has agreed to initiate rulemaking to better address industrial waste spills as part of a settlement with a coalition of environmental groups. The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), People Concerned About Chemical Safety (PCACS), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), sued EPA last July alleging that the Agency had failed to prevent hazardous substance spills from industrial facilities, including above ground storage tanks. See Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., case number 1:15-cv-05705, in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The settlement detailed in a consent decree requires EPA to begin a rulemaking process immediately and to finalize spill prevention rules within three and half years. The forthcoming protections will cover over 350 hazardous chemicals, and will apply broadly to tens of thousands of industrial facilities across the country.

The environmental groups commented as follows on the settlement of this litigation with EPA:

There are thousands of hazardous substance spills each year from industrial facilities that are not subject to any hazardous substance spill prevention rules, according to United States Coast Guard data from the last ten years. Chemicals released in industrial spills can contaminate waterways, and exposure to these substances can be dangerous, and in some instances, fatal. These health effects are experienced disproportionately by residents of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, where facilities that manufacture, store, and use hazardous substances tend to cluster. EJHA documented the disproportionate risk of catastrophic chemical releases faced by communities of color and low-income communities from 3,433 industrial facilities across the country in its 2014 report, Who’s in Danger: A Demographic Analysis of Chemical Disaster Vulnerability Zones.

A key aspect of these new rules will be to implement uniform federal safeguards for above-ground storage tanks including improved secondary containment. While EPA’s current Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rules help facilities prevent a discharge of oil into navigable waters or onto adjoining shorelines, these new rules to be developed appear to go further to regulate additional chemicals and impose further safeguards to minimize releases and spills. The existing SPCC regulations are complex and impose significant regulatory burden on subject facilities; the proposed new regulations will expand those obligations.

For more information about EPA’s settlement, see EJHA’s press release at