Environmental Regulation of Agriculture

US EPA has been finalizing regulations aimed at spill prevention, control, and countermeasures (SPCC). It closed a comment period earlier this month that restated a compliance deadline of November 10, 2010 for certain entities required to have an SPCC plan, while extending the compliance deadline for one year for dairy farms. The rationale of oil spill prevention is not a terribly controversial topic. However, the application of SPCC regulations to dairy farms is not.

The SPCC regulations would require farmers to have a spill prevention plan that would address an oil spill at their facility if a farm has fuel and oil storage in excess of 1320 gallons in containers larger than 55 gallons. Because EPA has taken the position that butterfat in raw milk is an oil, the bulk milk storage tanks on many dairy farms could subject those farms to SPCC plan requirements.

EPA’s announced compliance date extension addressed the application of the SPCC regulations to dairy bulk tanks and ancillary piping. After taking comment about the extremely low risk of a hazardous spill from a dairy farm’s raw milk storage, EPA stated that it intended to finalize an exemption for Grade A dairy facilities meeting 3-A sanitary standards. Second, EPA announced that it would extend the compliance date for qualifying dairy farms to one year after EPA finalizes the exemption. Once finalized, those farms meeting the set criteria would not have to file an SPCC plan with respect to their bulk milk storage.

EPA’s announcement and exemption applies only to bulk tanks and milk production storage. If a dairy farm has other oil and fuel storage that would trigger an SPCC plan, the exemption does not absolve the farm from compliance. For farms that were in operation on or before August 16, 2002, current SPCC plans must be maintained and updated, if necessary, by November 10, 2011. For farms that began operations after August 16, 2002, any required SPCC plan must be in place by November 10, 2011.

If that all seems a bit confusing, it is. The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), which has been pushing EPA to adopt and finalize the bulk milk exemption, filed comments with EPA asking for a single compliance date for all dairy farms of November 10, 2011. NMPF has also received a USDA grant to develop a template plan and assist dairy farmers in complying with the SPCC regulations. To date, EPA has not made any further comment on the finalization of the exemption or on adopting a single compliance date for dairy farms.