WASHINGTON (March 15, 2004) — A March 3 meeting between officials of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and aftermarket and auto dealer associations offered some potential relief to small businesses bedeviled by Superfund liability involving used oil.
However, it didn't offer the relief they most wanted—namely, a change in the effective date of the relief.
The Service Station Dealer Exemption (SSDE), an amendment to Superfund law, gives an exemption to auto repairers from used oil cleanup liability at toxic waste sites in exchange for following all Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulations for disposing of the oil.
But although the SSDE amendment became law Nov. 8, 1986, an EPA interpretation of it gave its effective date as March 8, 1993. This nearly seven-year discrepancy is causing great financial harm to auto repairers caught in Superfund cleanup actions, according to groups such as the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and the Automotive Service Association (ASA).
This problem is worsened by what Robert L. Redding Jr., ASA Washington representative, calls “the EPA's ongoing failure to implement procedures designed to recognize and assist exemption candidates at eligible Superfund sites.”
A recent EPA enforcement action in Florida underscored for the aftermarket the need to clarify SSDE regulations.
An agency letter sent to hundreds of Florida auto repair businesses last Dec. 5 informed them of their potential liability in the cleanup of the Florida Petroleum Reprocessors site in Davie, Fla., and gave them until Jan. 31 to accept a settlement offer.
Attached to the letter was a list of settlement costs for each of the companies the EPA declared liable in the Davie cleanup. The list—which ran to 33 pages—assessed each company anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.
A bill before the House of Representatives would set the date of the exemption firmly as Nov. 8, 1986, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., champions the attachment of exemption language to Senate bills.
According to Mr. Redding, some EPA officials oppose the efforts on Capitol Hill, as do major environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth. He said they claim the exemption violates the “polluter pays” principle and also that Superfund exemptions covering very small contributors to Superfund sites are enough to protect auto repairers.
However, the Florida enforcement action—only one of many in various states—demonstrates just how necessary the SSDE is, Mr. Redding said.
“This began as an interpretation, but now it's pretty far down the road on enforcement,” he added.
The March 3 meeting covered a draft application for service station owners—including tire dealers and independent repair shops—who seek exemption from Superfund liability, according to Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government relations.
Shops that meet certain criteria—such as accepting do-it-yourselfers' used oil for collection and not mixing the oil with hazardous substances—can simply check a box on the application to claim the exemption, Ms. MacDicken said. Those that don't meet the criteria would fill out a 15-page questionnaire requesting an exemption, which the EPA would then consider on a case-by-case basis.
The aftermarket made some objections to the language in the application, and final comments on it are due April 5, according to Ms. MacDicken. “But the only thing the EPA said (at the meeting) about the effective date is that they're sticking with 1993, so we have to fight that battle in Congress,” she said.
No congressional hearings have been scheduled at this time on the House used oil exemption bill.