Case Overview, Effluent Guidelines for Tank Trucks

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over EPA effluent limitation guidelines. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.

           The Clean Water Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate industries whose business practices may contribute to water pollution. Individual industries present different problems and EPA must write separate regulations to meet the specific issues in water quality that have emerged in each relevant business sphere. EPA began its implementation of this part of the Clean Water Act with the industries where it perceived the problems to be most urgent. Over time environmental groups became impatient with the agency's pace and began taking it to court for failing to regulate industries the lobbies believed were producing significant water pollution. One of these suits targeted EPA's failure to regulate the tanker truck industry.
          Tanker trucks are specialized vehicles used to transport liquid products, some of which (chemicals, pesticides, gasoline) are quite dangerous. Said one participant in the policymaking on this matter, "Think of a tank truck as a thermos bottle. It's got insulation and stainless steel and you can keep things warm or cold, the stainless protects the tank itself from whatever chemicals they haul." After they've delivered their cargo, the inside of the "thermos bottle" needs to be cleaned. With solvents or other chemicals each tanker truck is thoroughly washed. It's the wastewater from this process, containing both the residual from the original cargo and the cleaning solvents, that produces the problem. Where do you put it? "Obviously you don't just go out in the yard with it," noted one industry observer.
          The regulation writing process, known as "administrative rulemaking," is sometimes contentious as a governmental agency may produce rules requiring individual companies to spend significant sums to change their manufacturing process to reduce pollution. New regulations could allow more companies to compete in a particular business market, thus threatening the profits of current competitors. In the case of the tanker trucks, the rulemaking process was fairly consensual as EPA and industry representatives worked cooperatively to produce these new regulations. After EPA notified the industry that it would be initiating administrative rulemaking, EPA officials were invited to visit some tank cleaning facilities so they could better understand industry practices. For its part EPA had scientific expertise in water quality and engineering that the industry lacked and the agency shared its data with the tanker truck companies and their trade association. In turn the trade association hired consultants and a Washington law firm with the requisite technical expertise to work with EPA during the writing of the regulations.
          The tanker truck industry is made of small businesses and EPA was sensitive to the need to formulate regulations that would keep any new company expenditures within reasonable bounds. EPA's efforts in this regard were aided by its Small Business Advocacy Office, whose director became involved in the rulemaking proceedings. Federal bureaucracies are encouraged in this respect by the Regulator Flexibility Act and the Small Business Regulator Enforcement Fairness Act to write regulations in a fashion realistically compatible with the financial resources of small business in mind. The rulemaking also went smoothly because the technical problems of disposing of the tanker truck wastewater are not formidable. Current practices in the industry were not too far off from what the new regulations eventually required.