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Senators to EPA: Stop delaying Risk Management Program amendments

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Photo: rafal_olechowski/iStockphoto

Washington – Two senators are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to “immediately implement” amendments to the agency’s Risk Management Program rule for chemical facilities.

In a letter sent Aug. 8 to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tom Carper (D-DE) cite the agency’s “extensive process” to finalize updates that “ensure protections for first responders, facility workers and communities living adjacent to chemical facilities.” A rulemaking timeline provided by the senators references multiple delays to the initial effective date of the amendments, which was March 14. The most recent delay came on June 14, when EPA issued a final rule that pushed back the effective date from June 19 to Feb. 19, 2019.

According to the timeline, EPA first issued a Request for Information seeking stakeholder feedback on potential RMP modifications in July 2014. The rule was published in the Jan. 13, 2017 Federal Register.

“First responders, communities and facility workers have been waiting for these updates for decades,” the letter states. “These constituencies deserve to live, raise their families and work in a community that is safe from chemical disasters. The EPA’s final amendments to the RMP will save lives and create a safer working environment.”

The amendments are intended 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 letter includes data from EPA showing that more than 1,000 serious incidents occurred at chemical facilities from 2004 to 2013, “resulting in 58 deaths, over 17,000 injuries and billions of dollars in property damage.” One of the most prominent incidents – a 2013 fertilizer facility explosion that killed 15 people in West, TX – helped prompt the amendments, which stemmed from an Executive Order from former President Barack Obama directing government agencies to improve chemical facility safety.

Pruitt addressed the most recent delay in a June 12 press release: “We are seeking additional time to review the program so that we can fully evaluate the public comments raised by multiple petitioners and consider other issues that may benefit from additional public input.”

On July 24, a group of 11 state attorneys general, led by Eric Schneiderman of New York, filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, asking that EPA overturn the postponement.

“Protecting our workers, first responders and communities from chemical accidents should be something on which we all agree,” Schneiderman said in a July 24 press release. “Yet the (President Donald) Trump EPA continues to put special interests before the health and safety of the people they serve. It’s simply outrageous to block these common-sense protections – and attorneys general will keep fighting back when our communities are put at risk.”

The amendments met earlier opposition in February under House Joint Resolution 59. Introduced by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), the resolution seeks to nullify the amendments while preventing additional chemical safety improvements not directed by Congress. A group of 26 organizations led by the Environmental Justice Health Alliance sent a letter to four members of Congress shortly thereafter, asking that EPA efforts be maintained.

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