Alexandria, VA, Thursday, December 15, 2005 -- At a hearing yesterday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President James K. Coyne testified on behalf of airports and aviation businesses regarding new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules addressing fuel spill prevention. Coyne testified that the new proposed amendments to the EPA's Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) program were a step in the right direction for the aviation industry, although the agency's proposal still leaves a number of unanswered questions.
The EPA issued the proposed amendments to the SPCC program on December 2, 2005, in the form of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The NPRM contains a number of policy changes that differ with previous EPA proposals as they relate to airport operations. Most notably, aircraft mobile refueling vehicles have been exempted from "sized secondary containment," which would have required operators of the vehicles to construct costly containment areas in which to park the vehicles when not in service. The sized containment proposal, among the most controversial of earlier policies, would have also reduced airport runway capacity and presented safety and security hazards for airport personnel. Under the new NPRM, aviation refueling vehicles are still subject to "general containment" measures, which are far more reasonable, although the term is loosely defined. The NPRM also contains special exemptions for smaller facilities and other types of mobile vehicles, including motive power and oil-filled equipment.
Since the EPA first proposed amendments to the SPCC rule in 2002, NATA has spearheaded efforts in the aviation industry to overturn many of the EPA's proposals, including the requirements for sized containment. NATA, participating in a coalition with other aviation industry associations, persistently petitioned the EPA and raised the issue with Members of Congress to pressure the agency to adopt more reasonable regulations. The NPRM issued in early December is representative of those efforts, as the new proposals are considered much more practical for aviation fuel providers.
"Although several questions remain and the rule appears to offer contradictory reasoning for its policies, these NPRMs are much closer to the aviation industry's goals than proposals of years past. We commend the EPA for taking our positions into account in drafting this rule. As the comment period moves forward and the agency seeks comments on the proposed amendment, we will be happy to continue to address our thoughts and concerns with the EPA. We are hopeful that this rule will help reopen a dialogue between the industry and the EPA on how to reach the best possible policy," Coyne said in his statement. "Overall, NATA is supportive of the efforts made by the EPA to mitigate the impact the SPCC rules could have on the aviation industry, and looks forward to working with the agency to further clarify some key issues that currently remain unresolved."
There is still some question as to whether an extension provided in the NPRM until October 31, 2007, applies to aviation refueling vehicles. Coyne asserted that such vehicles should be covered under the extension. "It is imperative that the EPA grant aviation businesses the opportunity to take the time to develop a comprehensive SPCC plan that takes into account the new guidance issued by the agency…The EPA should absolutely cease any enforcement until airports have the opportunity to develop and implement an SPCC plan."
Coyne also pointed out contradictions in the NPRM that adversely affect mobile refuelers. In noting that other industrial equipment are exempted from SPCC regulations due to outstanding spill history and "economic incentive" to conserve fuel, Coyne testified that "Here the EPA fails to recognize that aviation businesses at airports have the same economic incentives and similar design, construction and maintenance stringencies regarding mobile refuelers. While NATA is encouraged by the EPA's overall approach to the SPCC rule, these are questions we feel need to be asked of the EPA in regard to its policies on oil spills and prevention."
The NPRM provides a 60-day comment period for affected businesses to offer opinions on the new rules. Coyne told the committee that NATA is encouraging its member companies to comment on the proposed rule, and the association will be doing the same. He stressed NATA's desire to continue working with the EPA to reach the best possible policy that is both practical and environmentally sound.