Letter from 55 Groups Opposed to EPA's Do-Nothing Chemical Spill Plan

August 24, 2018

August 24, 2018

The Honorable Andrew Wheeler

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator

1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington DC 20460

RE: Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OLEM–2018–0024 Clean Water Act Hazardous Substances Discharge Prevention Action

Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler,

On behalf of the 55 undersigned organizations and our millions of members and supporters across the country, we oppose the Trump administration’s proposal to take no action to protect communities and water resources from leaks and spills of hazardous substances from aboveground storage tanks.

The Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a program to prevent spills and leaks of hazardous substances into water bodies. Like the “Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC)” program for oil spills, the hazardous spill prevention program was meant to protect drinking water sources and ensure that water remains safe for fishing, recreation, and wildlife habitat. In 2016, EPA agreed as part of a consent decree to propose and finalize such rule.

We disagree strongly with EPA’s proposal to take no action and to rely on existing programs to address the public health, environmental, and economic threats of hazardous substance spills from aboveground storage tanks.

EPA’s proposal to take no action is inappropriate and leaves water bodies, drinking water sources, and communities at risk.

  • EPA argues that existing federal regulatory programs are sufficient to prevent spills of hazardous substances into water. The proposal cites over a dozen programs, some under EPA jurisdiction and some implemented by other agencies. These include: EPA’s Risk Management Plan rule which is currently under review and likely to be significantly rolled back; the Clean Water Act general permit for stormwater discharges, and the Department of Interior Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act requirements. None of these programs is sufficient to address the Clean Water Act direction to establish procedures, methods, equipment and other requirements to prevent discharges of hazardous substances.
  • We do not know how many aboveground storage tanks around the country contain hazardous substances. No existing program assembles information on these tanks, on the hazardous substances they contain, on whether they threaten water resources, and on their condition.
  • A patchwork of federal programs is insufficient to protect drinking water sources, of particular concern given the public health risk and economic disruption than can result from a leak or spill of hazardous substances into drinking water sources. Most Public Water Systems do not have information about aboveground tanks that can threaten the source of the water they treat and distribute. A haphazard approach to this information is of particular concern when drinking water source implications are considered.

EPA should propose and finalize a rule that meets the Clean Water Act requirements. Such a program must include the following components:

Focus on prevention of spills: The rule should require owners and operators of aboveground storage tanks to write detailed spill-prevention plans that are disclosed to and enforceable by the public; to conduct regular internal and external inspections of all storage tanks containing hazardous substances; and complete regular third-party inspections and safety audits.

Set primary storage requirements: The rule should specify requirements focused on leak and spill prevention, including tank design and size limitations that are suitable for particular chemicals and types of chemicals.

Require secondary containment: The rule should require implementation of secondary containment methodologies to ensure that a spill from primary storage tank never reaches a body of water or the surrounding community.

Notify the public: Immediate public notification should be required in the event of any leak or spill.

Polluters Need to Pay for Response and Clean-up: The rule should require owners and operators of aboveground storage tanks to post bonds for or pre-fund response and cleanup costs, to ensure response efforts are immediate and that the public is not left footing the bill.

The Public’s Right to Know: The rule should require owners and operators to report and make publicly available the location and size of aboveground storage tanks containing hazardous substances, the chemicals they contain, and the last inspection date.

Protect water from more hazardous substances: The Clean Water Act’s current list of hazardous substances includes only around 330 of the thousands of harmful chemicals manufactured, stored, and used in the United States today. This list has not been expanded for decades. The rule should update the Clean Water Act’s list of hazardous substances to reflect the risks that chemical spills pose to people’s health, to drinking water sources, to water bodies used for recreation and fishing, to wildlife, and to the economic well-being of communities.



Alliance for the Great Lakes

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Animas Riverkeeper

Apalachicola Riverkeeper

Assateague Coastal Trust

Atchafalaya Basinkeeper

Bayou City Waterkeeper

Blue Water Baltimore

Boulder Waterkeeper

Cahaba Riverkeeper

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch

Community Housing and Empowerment Connections Inc.


Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice

Crystal Coast Waterkeeper

CURE (Clean Up the River Environment)

Defenders of Wildlife

Earthjustice Earthworks

Endangered Species Coalition

Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Mississippi River

Green Eco Warriors

Green Newton Green Riverkeeper



Greenpeace USA

Hackensack Riverkeeper

Hands Across the River Coalition Inc

Hurricane Creekkeeper

Lake Worth Waterkeeper

League of Conservation Voters

Long Island Soundkeeper

Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition

Massachusetts Rivers Alliance Milwaukee Riverkeeper

National Wildlife Federation

Natural Resources Defense Council

Our Bodies Ourselves

Peconic Baykeeper

Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter Portland Clean Energy Task Force

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance

River Network Riverkeeper, Inc.

Rivers Alliance of Connecticut Rogue Riverkeeper

Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment Sierra Club

Suwannee Riverkeeper

WE ACT for Environmental Justice

West Virginia Rivers Coalition

White Oak-New Riverkeeper Alliance

Winyah Rivers Foundation, Inc.

cc: David Ross, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water,

Barry Breen, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management