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Steelworkers call on EPA to strengthen chemical safety rule

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Pittsburgh — United Steelworkers is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to bolster EPA’s Risk Management Program Reconsideration final rule to enhance worker protections.

In comments submitted to the agency in July, USW urges EPA to take several steps the union believes will prevent future incidents at chemical facilities. Those steps include:

  • Requiring facilities to involve workers and their representatives in the prevention of catastrophic releases, and sharing all information related to an incident and its prevention.
  • Reinstating root cause analysis for chemical releases and near misses.
  • Reinserting third-party compliance audits as part of the RMP rule, and completing audits after any incident meeting the definition of a catastrophic release.
  • Requiring industries outside of the chemical, petroleum and paper manufacturing sectors to perform a safer technology and alternatives analysis of the processes and chemicals they use, as well as judge the impact of a worst-case chemical release to communities surrounding RMP facilities and order those sites to review safer chemicals and processes.
  • Coordinating with other agencies to harmonize lists of dangerous chemicals, update EPA’s list of regulated substances, and require facilities to evaluate the risk of a reactive chemical incident and to take appropriate action even if the chemicals aren’t on the EPA’s list.

“USW chemical workers are essential to preventing and responding to chemical release incidents,” USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn, who heads of the union’s chemical sector, said in a press release. “That’s why it’s important that the Risk Management Plan rule have strict regulatory protections in place to safeguard workers, the community and the planet from releases of hazardous chemicals into the air that can cause deaths, injuries, and property and environmental damage, and force people to evacuate or shelter in place.”

An Executive Order issued by President Joe Biden in January mandated a review of the rule. On June 16 and July 8, EPA conducted public listening sessions and accepted comment on the rule through July 31.

 

In January 2020, USW sued EPA and then-administrator Andrew Wheeler over the agency’s changes to the Obama-era Chemical Disaster Rule.

After taking effect in December 2019, the RMP final rule eliminated various provisions in the original rule intended to prevent future incidents at chemical facilities.

The Chemical Disaster Rule amended the RMP rule for chemical facilities with the intention of:

  • Preventing catastrophic incidents by enhancing incident prevention program requirements.
  • Enhancing emergency preparedness to ensure coordination between facilities and local communities.
  • Improving information access to help the public understand the risks at RMP facilities.
  • Improving third-party audits at RMP facilities.

The Chemical Disaster Rule was finalized Jan. 13, 2017, but endured numerous delays before it went into effect in February 2019.

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