The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that for the first time since 1988, it is bolstering federal regulations for underground storage tanks (UST) on the grounds that leaks from the structures are a leading cause of groundwater contamination.

EPA said the tougher regulations will also ensure that USTs across the country, including those located on tribal lands, meet the same regulatory standards.

“These changes will better protect people’s health and benefit the environment in communities across the country by improving prevention and detection of underground storage tank releases,” said Mathy Stanislaus, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

According to EPA, the new regulations change parts of a federal law enacted in 1988 that covers USTs, bringing them more in line with portions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Specifically, EPA enacted new operation and maintenance requirements that were deferred in the 1988 law.

“These requirements improve EPA’s original 1988 UST regulation by closing regulatory gaps, adding new technologies, and focusing on properly operating and maintaining existing UST systems,” the agency said.

The changes include:

  • Adding secondary containment requirements for new and replaced tanks and piping;
  • Adding operator training requirements;
  • Adding periodic operation and maintenance requirements for UST systems;
  • Adding requirements to ensure UST system compatibility before storing certain biofuel blends;
  • Removing past deferrals for emergency generator tanks, airport hydrant systems, and field-constructed tanks;
  • Adding new release prevention and detection technologies;
  • Updating codes of practice;
  • Updating state program approval requirements to incorporate these new changes; and
  • Making editorial and technical corrections

EPA said there are hundreds of thousands of USTs across the country. They are owned by marketers, such as gas stations and convenience stores, and nonretail facilities. The agency added that the UST program would primarily be enforced by the states.

“Many states already have some of these new requirements in place,” EPA said. “For others, these changes will set standards that are more protective.”

Stanislaus said that as part of the process in developing tougher UST standards, it reached out to various stakeholders. “Extensive and meaningful collaboration with our underground storage tank partners and stakeholders was vital to the development of the new regulations,” he said.

EPA added that it had “carefully considered the environmental benefits of the UST requirements, while balancing those with the potential future costs of compliance for UST owners and operators.  For example, EPA is not requiring owners and operators to replace existing equipment, but rather is focusing on better operation and maintenance of that equipment.”