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‘A crucial tool’: Groups oppose proposed changes to EPA’s Risk Management Program

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Washington — Environmental group Earthjustice and the United Steelworkers are among the organizations speaking out against the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed changes to its Risk Management Program.

As part of the 1990 Clean Air Act, facilities that use hazardous materials are required to develop an RMP. In response to a 2013 explosion at a Texas fertilizer facility that killed 15 people, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order calling for government agencies to improve safety at chemical facilities.

EPA finalized its RMP amendments on Jan. 13, 2017, in an effort to:

  • Improve incident prevention program requirements to prevent catastrophic incidents.
  • Bolster emergency preparedness by ensuring coordination between facilities and local communities.
  • Improve the public’s access to information to help it understand the risks at RMP facilities.
  • Improve third-party audits at RMP facilities.

Those amendments were slated to go into effect March 14, 2017, but were delayed twice, with the latest action pushing the effective date to Feb. 19, 2019.

On May 17, EPA issued a proposed rule to rescind amendments on safer technology and alternatives analyses, third-party audits, incident investigations, information availability, and “several other minor regulatory changes.” The agency also stated that it is seeking to modify amendments regarding local emergency coordination, emergency exercises and public meetings. It also wants to change the compliance dates for those amendments.

The agency states that the changes will address, among other issues:

  • Potential security risks associated with new information disclosure requirements introduced in the 2017 amendments.
  • Concerns about unnecessary regulations and their costs, along with concerns that EPA did not coordinate rulemaking with OSHA.
  • The timing of the finding by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that the Texas fertilizer plant was caused by arson. (A finding that some have challenged.)

A public hearing on the changes is scheduled for June 14, according to a notice published in the May 30 Federal Register. Comments are due June 29.

Earthjustice commented on the proposed rule May 19, 2017, on behalf of itself and 21 other organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Its 35-page letter concludes that changing the amendments “threatens the lives, livelihood, safety and peace of mind of millions of Americans at risk of a chemical disaster like the [Union Carbide gas leak on Dec. 2, 1984, in Bhopal, India, that killed an estimated 3,800 people or perhaps as many as 15,000 to 20,000].”

United Steelworkers issued a statement May 17: “The EPA Risk Management Program is a crucial tool that the Obama administration rightly decided to modernize after numerous incidents, including the April 2013 explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 and injured 150, and earlier incidents at USW-represented facilities in Anacortes, WA, and Richmond, CA.

“The Obama-era rules contained important worker safety provisions to prevent accidents and save lives. These rules included root cause accident investigation, safer technology assessments and third-party audits. The regulations also required increased coordination and sharing of information with first responders, who are inevitably called in to assist during and after a chemical release or explosion.”

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