More than 54,000 public comments and several organizational petitions played a key role in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent decision to push back the effective date for amendments to the Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule for chemical facilities. The RMP Rule, which implements Section 112(r) of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, requires facilities that use extremely hazardous substances to develop a Risk Management Plan. These plans must be revised and resubmitted to the EPA every five years.
Recent proposed amendments to the RMP Rule were developed in response to several catastrophic events at chemical facilities in recent years– in particular, the 2013 fertilizer facility explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 people. Soon after the explosion, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that directed the EPA to make changes to the rule aimed at improving chemical facility safety. The resulting amendments, finalized in December 2016 and originally slated to go into effect March 14, 2017, were designed to:
- -Prevent catastrophic incidents by improving incident prevention program requirements.
- -Enhance emergency preparedness to ensure coordination between facilities and local communities.
- -Improve information access to help the public understand the risks at RMP facilities.
- -Improve third-party audits at RMP facilities.
The proposed amendments are now slated to become effective February 19, 2019. The RMP Rule applies to those facilities, referred to as ‘‘stationary sources’’ under the Clean Air Act that are subject to the chemical accident prevention requirements at 40 CFR part 68. This includes stationary sources holding more than a threshold quantity of a regulated substance in a process.
Several opponents of the proposed amendments say new requirements could result in significant compliance costs for industry that would outweigh the potential prevention of future chemical accidents. The Utility Solid Waste Activities Group (USWAG) stated in its submitted public comments that the EPA’s efforts should be narrowly tailored to minimize the prevalence and consequences of the types of releases that have occurred since the RMP’s adoption. USWAG’s members believe that the safety practices and measures already in place at utility facilities are more than adequate to protect facilities from potential accidents.
Similar petitions for reconsideration were submitted by the RMP Coalition, the Chemical Safety Advocacy Group (CSAG), and a collective that included the states of Louisiana, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
Proponents of EPA’s proposed amendments argue that while numerous chemical plants are operating safely, in the last 10 years, RMP data shows that there have been more than 1,500 reportable accidents resulting in 58 deaths, 17,099 people who were injured or sought medical treatment, and almost 500,000 people evacuated or sheltered-in-place. They said changes to the RMP Rule will help protect local first responders, community members and employees from death or injury due to chemical facility accidents.
On behalf of 26 organizations, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance called for congressional leaders to block attempts to nullify amendments to the RMP Rule. They say that the chemical safety improvements could prevent disasters and save lives.
The League of Conservation Voters stated that, “It is time to issue enforceable standards that would require the use of inherently safer systems to prevent chemical disasters. The EPA, DHS, and OSHA need to modernize chemical plant safety regulations to prevent disasters whether they are triggered by accidents, terrorism or natural disasters.”
EPA officials say that during this delay the agency will conduct a reconsideration proceeding to review objections raised by petitioners to the final RMP Rule and to consider other issues that may benefit from additional comment.
The team at EDGE has the expertise and experience to help you successfully navigate the complex landscape of environmental regulations and offer several Clean Air Act services, such as risk management plan reporting. We are here to answer your questions and advise you of your strengths and vulnerabilities regarding the proposed amendments to the RMP Rule, and what steps you should take to prepare for future implementation.