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Arkansas Congressman Rick Crawford wants farmers to be able to store as much as 10,000 gallons of fuel above ground before being required to comply with a federal rule regulating when agricultural operations must have spill response plans and containment dikes around storage tanks.

Earlier this week, Crawford, a Republican, reintroduced his Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship Act, after the Environmental Protection Agency said it wants to amend a rule to require farms that have more than 2,500 gallons of above-ground storage for oil products to develop a spill prevention and cleanup plan.

"It's really kind of a common sense thing," Crawford said Friday. "What we're bumping up against now is that they just seem to gravitate to the lowest possible level that they can get away with. We're saying that the data shows that clearly a reasonable threshold ... is 10,000 gallons."

The EPA included the 2,500-gallon threshold in a late June report as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed by Congress last year. The act required the EPA to study what threshold should be set for on-farm oil and fuel storage to invoke Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Program requirements.

The new standard will increase the threshold from 1,320 gallons to 2,500 gallons, meaning that farmers with fewer than 2,500 gallons stored at their operations don't have to do anything.

The proposed rule does allow farms with above-ground storage capacity from 2,500 gallons to 20,000 gallons to self-certify their compliance with spill prevention program rules, as long as they have a clean history and no individual containers larger than 10,000 gallons. However, they must take steps such as building dikes around tanks, conduct periodic inspections and regularly review oil handling practices to show they can respond to an accidental spill.

In a report released June 30, the EPA wrote that "based on this study, which includes the agency's record and the lack of data to support any higher threshold, it is appropriate to set the threshold at the minimum of 2,500 gallons aggregate above-ground oil storage capacity provided by the [water resources act] amendments for farms."

The EPA report said that based on farm fuel spending data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "the vast majority of U.S. farms -- 81 to 96 percent -- store less than 2,500 gallons of oil on site," making the farms exempt from the spill prevention and containment program requirements. It said that of those that aren't exempt, most are able to self-certify under EPA rules, adopting practices such as using proper containers, conducting inspections, creating a response plan and installing "secondary containment" in the event of a spill.

The report said that less than 1 percent of farms store more than 20,000 gallons. Operations with this much storage capacity must have a licensed professional engineer certify their spill and containment plans, in addition to taking steps to ensure leaking fuel can't pass into any nearby body of water.

In an email Friday, EPA spokesman Julia Valentine referred questions about the standards to an online fact sheet about the spill prevention program. She wrote that the current exemption standard -- up to 6,000 gallons of above-ground storage -- in place while the study was being done still is in effect.

The fact sheet says the act that called for the study also allows farmers with up to 20,000 gallons of capacity to do self-certification as long as no container is larger than 10,000 gallons and there have been no prior discharges.

No information was available about when the 2,500-gallon threshold might take effect.

Zac Bradley, director of public policy for national affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said Friday that making farmers aware they need to comply with the fuel storage rule will be difficult. In its report, the EPA acknowledged that many farmers "are not aware of their obligations" under the spill response rules and don't "provide adequate secondary containment for their oil containers."

Enforcement also could be an issue, Bradley said, since the EPA doesn't have the manpower to inspect tens of thousands of farms across the country. He said the burden might fall on fuel dealers to refuse to fill tanks deemed out of compliance with program rules.

Bradley said the Farm Bureau, which has been following this issue since 2010, doesn't believe the EPA's decision reflects the safety record of on-farm fuel storage, which he said adds an extra layer of costs for farmers in return for limited benefits. He said some producers who've been following the issue have suggested the cost to comply could be as much as $30,000 to $40,000.

And, more farmers than thought could be affected by the new threshold.

"The fact that we're hearing from them and the threshold is 2,500 [gallons], I would suggest that they're storing more fuel than that," he said.

A 2012 study by the University of Arkansas on fuel storage estimated that about 34,000 of the more than 49,000 farms in operation in Arkansas would be subject to the EPA rule. The study estimated at the time that Crawford's legislation would prevent about 75 percent of the farms potentially subject to the rule from having to comply, with savings of $1,320 to $10,002 per farm.

The study said that row crop farms would be the most affected by the EPA rule. It noted that such farms can store from 10,000 gallons to 20,000 gallons of fuel and oil products.

Crawford offered similar legislation in 2013 that was unanimously adopted by the full House as an amendment to its version of the farm bill. However, that amendment didn't make it into the final version of the 2014 farm bill after conference committee negotiations with the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats at the time. The legislation also was passed by the House in other legislation in 2012 and 2013 but was never acted on by the Senate, Crawford said.

The chances for the legislation to pass are much better with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, Crawford said. He said his legislation has been opposed strongly by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the former chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee while the current chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has been supportive. He said he is unaware of whether the Obama administration has taken a position on the legislation.

Crawford said the 10,000-gallon threshold laid out in his legislation is based on language used in the Clean Water Act that was passed in the 1970s.

"We are not trying to repeal the Clean Water Act," Crawford said. "We're just trying to operate within the confines prescribed by that law as it applies to agriculture and what they believed [at the time] and they viewed as a family farm."

Business on 07/25/2015

Print Headline: Act aims to raise farmers' fuel bar

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