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Mott-Smith Consulting Group, LLC

Former compliance inspector for the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, instructor and member of the board of directors for the National Institute for Storage Tank Management, and founder of Mott-Smith Consulting Group, LLC, Tallahassee, Fla.

During Marshall Mott-Smith's tenure as the head of storage-tank regulation for the state of Florida for 22 years, PEI was always there to lend a hand.

Three decades ago, underground storage tanks (USTs) were steel cylinders you stuck in the ground at a gasoline station, filled with petroleum-based motor fuels and forgot about until they needed refilling. While some thought these storage systems were indestructible, the environment proved them wrong. Corrosion and damage from time spent underground, coupled with what Mother Nature could throw at them, caused many tanks to leak. This led to contamination of the soil; and, in severe cases, the fresh-water supply; and, eventually, a series of costly, high-profile lawsuits.
In a classic case of turning a negative into a positive, these leaking USTs and the harm they wrought led to sweeping legislation and regulations governing their construction, use, monitoring and maintenance.
One of the states hit hardest by leaking USTs was Florida, which gets 92 percent of its drinking water from the ground. The problem received national attention in 1982 when an investigation revealed that a UST had been leaking for 18 months at a service station in Belleview, 70 miles north of Tampa. 10,000 gallons of unleaded gasoline poured into the area’s subsurface soils and groundwater. The massive leak contaminated the city’s municipal water-well field, which eventually had to be abandoned.
At that time, Marshall Mott-Smith, a 1976 Florida State University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Geography and graduate degree in Land Use, was working as a compliance inspector for the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation (DER), with responsibility for air-pollution and solid-waste monitoring and enforcement.
Realizing the severity of the burgeoning leaking-UST crisis, Florida commissioned the creation of a program to regulate USTs and made Mott-Smith its first coordinator. In 1986, he was promoted to administrator, Storage Tank Regulation Section for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), a position he held until early 2008. During that time, he became one of the most widely recognized experts on both under- and aboveground petroleum-storage systems—and their construction, use and operation.
Fixing Many Holes
In his more than 20 years as the head of Florida’s storage-tank section, Mott-Smith witnessed and was responsible for many advances in fuel-storage systems—but not without some trial and error.
“When the regulation first came into being, we went from old steel underground storage systems to single-wall, corrosion-protected systems,” he said. “We quickly found out that the single-wall systems weren’t working that well, so the state allowed the DEP to apply some stringent new rules and in 1990, we instituted a new 20-year deadline for USTs to be upgraded with secondary containment.”
And now, what once seemed so distant is fast approaching. The compliance deadline to upgrade USTs falls on Dec. 31, 2009, and ASTs must be upgraded by Jan. 1, 2010. Mott-Smith and his storage-tank inspectors are confident that those deadlines will be met.
“Florida has a very active cleanup program with a $200 million a year budget and an active compliance program,” he said. “I had 120 inspectors who worked for me under contract, and we’d conduct 30,000 inspections a year, giving Florida some of the highest compliance rates in the country.”
Certainly Mott-Smith will reflect positively on his accomplishments as a regulator when those compliance deadlines are met. And he will bask in the kudos he receives for his efforts to make them reality, but it won’t be as an active member of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. After 31 years, Mott-Smith left the DEP in April to form his own business—the Mott-Smith Consulting Group, LLC, headquartered in Tallahassee, Fla. The environmental consulting firm provides services in storage-tank-system management, training, compliance inspections, enforcement, tank installation, contamination-assessment referrals and expert-witness services for government and private-sector owners of USTs and ASTs. With his son, Ian, a certified project engineer, running the business side of things, and his brother, Ernest, a senior professional engineer with Black & Veitch, “assisting us when he can,” Mott-Smith hopes to use the knowledge he has gained over the years to assist those who need guidance as they mange their fuel-storage systems.
“I’m not a professional engineer or a geologist, but I have a lot of regulatory experience and extensive knowledge of the rules. I can help with storage-tank management, regulation problems and training,” said Mott-Smith. As an administrator for the DEP, he testified before the U.S. Congress four times, wrote dozens of scholarly articles, provided expert testimony in numerous lawsuits and was a highly regarded speaker at hundreds of industry shows and events, as well as an instructor and board member for the National Institute for Storage Tank Management (NISTM). “The Department of Environmental Protection was helpful in my acquisition of the knowledge I needed to get where I am today. It’s an excellent training ground, but I’m enjoying the new world of free enterprise and embracing capitalism with both hands.”
Always By His Side
Much like Mott-Smith came to know a single, steel wall likely could not provide the protection necessary to do the job, he realized that to be a successful regulator, he needed to surround himself with people who could offer the guidance and protection required to do his job well.
That’s why early on he turned to the Petroleum Equipment Institute. Founded in 1951, PEI is recognized as the leading trade association for those who manufacture, distribute and service petroleum-marketing and liquid-handling equipment, of which USTs and ASTs play a prominent role. As Mott-Smith dealt with the ups and downs of storage-tank regulation in Florida, he knew he could always turn to PEI and its members for the answers to questions he struggled with—and he was more than willing to recommend the institute to others searching for a safe haven in the industry.
“Not just me, but a lot of my counterparts and peers who are regulators still truly benefit from PEI,” said Mott-Smith. “[Executive Vice President] Bob Renkes and [Industry Resource Liaison] Bob Young have always reached out to regulators with training and advice. PEI members are also better informed and trained, and have fewer regulatory compliance issues. PEI’s also been good in partnering with other organizations to get good, viable standards, and that just adds to the association’s credibility.”
While PEI offers a long list of member benefits, at the top of that list, in Mott-Smith’s eyes, is the institute’s work in creating recommended practices. Specifically, he points to RP100, Installation of Underground Liquid Storage Systems, and RP200, Installation of Aboveground Storage Systems, as two of the linchpins of his work as a regulator.
“Those are two really important documents that the state of Florida relied on for its rules,” he explained. “RP100 and RP200 were used by county inspectors to ensure that storage-tank systems were properly maintained. Industry standards truly are the backbone of most regulatory programs because they are developed by industry experts with a good representation of all affected industries or parties. Regulators have begun to participate more and more in the standards’ process and this has benefited the states, as well.”
Looking Ahead
Although Mott-Smith has hung up his regulator’s hat, his relationship with PEI remains solid. In fact, he expects the association to play an even more prominent role in the operation of Mott-Smith Consulting Group, many of whose clients will be PEI members.
“Every value that PEI made available to me as a regulator also applies consultants,” he said. “Being a member of PEI adds value to my business.”
While the state of Florida appears to have its leaking storage tanks plague under control—thanks in no small part to Mott-Smith’s years of hard work —the nation’s motor-fuel pool continues to evolve. Alternative fuels will play an increasingly pivotal role in fueling the nation’s vehicles. A large percentage of that alternative-fuel base will be ethanol, which is growing in popularity, but brings with it some concerns, especially its reaction to traditional fuel-storage systems. This is one area that not only Florida and the rest of the nation will soon focus on, but also Mott-Smith Consulting and PEI, as well.
“PEI will have a lot of involvement in alternative fuels,” Mott-Smith said. “Storage-tank systems need to be compatible with that product from the nozzle all the way back to the storage tank. Alternative fuels are a way to extend fuel supplies and help us transition into alternative-energy sources, but you can’t just flip a switch and get off of petroleum products. I see petroleum products as the way to fuel our country for many years to come.”