For the first time since federal regulations regarding underground storage tanks (USTs) were first promulgated in 1988, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing significant changes and additions to these regulations. The proposed rulemaking, found at 76 FR 71708, includes new requirements for USTs primarily focusing on proper operation and maintenance and spill prevention. EPA asserts that the revisions will improve the detection and prevention of UST releases leading to increased protection of human health and the environment.

Newly added requirements include secondary containment for new and replaced USTs, operator training programs, and periodic operation and maintenance requirements for UST systems, such as monthly inspections of spill prevention and release detection equipment, yearly testing of spill prevention equipment, and the testing of overfill prevention and certain secondary containment equipment every three years. In addition, deferrals for certain types of tanks will be eliminated. These requirements are intended to reflect significant technological advances made in the last two decades.

The proposed changes may be significant to the commercial and manufacturing sectors if they become effective. From a practical standpoint, owners and operators of tanks in the vast majority of states with approved UST programs may ultimately see changes in state regulations. States currently operating under an approved UST program will have three years to submit a revised program approval package to conform to the new regulations. Therefore, if the proposed regulations become effective, owners and operators of USTs should monitor changes to state programs closely. Owners and operators located in one of the few remaining states that do not have an approved UST program may be required under the new regulations to notify EPA when bringing a UST system into use or following a change in ownership.

Documents related to the proposed changes identified above, including a comparison of the current and proposed regulations and a Regulatory Impact Analysis, are available on EPA’s Web site. Comments to the proposed rule must be received by EPA on or before Feb. 16, 2012.