Obama Administration Urged To Expedite EPA's Facility RMP Updates

March 23, 2015

Environmental, labor and environmental justice groups are urging President Obama to expedite EPA's plans for updating its Risk Management Plan (RMP) accident prevention rule for industrial facilities, saying the agency's current time line fails to ensure that the agency will finalize the planned changes before Obama leaves office.

In a March 19 letter to the president, groups including Greenpeace and the BlueGreen Alliance reiterate long-standing calls for EPA to quickly issue RMP revisions to require facilities to use controversial safety measures, known as inherently safer technologies (IST), like alternative chemicals or processes. Advocates say that using IST can reduce the likelihood and consequences of disasters such as explosions at chemical plants. Relevant documents are available on InsideEPA.com. (Doc. ID: 179863)

"Safer processes are the only foolproof way to eliminate or dramatically reduce the loss of human life in such an event, whether it is triggered by an accident, natural disaster, or terrorism," according to the advocates' letter, signed by more than 140 groups. "We respectfully urge you to use your authority to expedite finalizing a rule that will eliminate these potentially catastrophic hazards wherever feasible," the letter says.

EPA's environmental justice advisors are also raising concerns that the agency has yet to act on calls to use authority under section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to require facilities to use IST where feasible. The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), in a draft March 16 letter to EPA, is reiterating its calls for the agency to bolster facility safety by requiring IST.

During a March 19 conference call, the NEJAC agreed to send a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy pressing for EPA to answer the NEJAC's prior calls for IST, and asking the agency to update the panel on the issue during NEJAC's upcoming meeting in May.

In the letter, addressed to EPA waste chief Mathy Stanislaus, and which the NEJAC intends to revise and send to McCarthy, the panel also presses EPA to respond to calls for the agency to use its authority under the air law to strengthen chemical facility safety.

"Given the national significance of this issue, and the potentially daily threat to Environmental Justice and other fence line communities from nearby chemical facilities, it is critically important that we know what the agency intends to do in terms of its utilization of" section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act, the NEJAC says in the draft letter.

EPA has announced plans to overhaul its RMP program as part of Obama's Executive Order (EO) 13650, though advocates have argued EPA's plan to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in September is not soon enough to ensure stricter measures are in place before Obama leaves office.

Obama issued the EO Aug. 1, 2013, in response to an ammonium nitrate explosion in April of that year at a fertilizer facility in West, TX, that killed 14 people, including first responders, and injured roughly 200 others. The order seeks to strengthen the safety and security of industrial plants through improved communication and information sharing, as well as modernized policies, rules and standards.

In their letter, advocates urge Obama to accelerate EPA's plans for improving RMP and specifically to use CAA section 112(r) authority to require facilities to use IST where feasible. They note that Obama in his 2008 book, "Change We Can Believe In," backed "using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals" whenever possible.

Hundreds of chemical facilities have already switched to cost-effective alternative processes, the groups say, adding that relying on voluntary efforts has left more than 100 million people in the United States living or working in vulnerability zones. Industry officials have said that companies already use IST where feasible and that a federal IST requirement is unnecessary and would be unwieldy.

The groups' letter comes after officials with EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in meetings with advocates last month, rebuffed calls to expedite EPA's overhaul of RMP rules, which currently require facilities to report certain hazardous chemicals to EPA and reduce risks of their accidental release.

Federal officials outlined plans for implementing Obama's order in a June 6 report, "Executive Order 13650 Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security -- A Shared Commitment," which says EPA will begin modernizing the RMP program within one year, and will consider additional revisions in the coming years.

Late last year, EPA published notice in the unified agenda that it plans to issue an NPRM updating its RMP requirements in September. In the federal calender, EPA says it is considering revisions to RMP that could include updating the rule's list of regulated substances, as well as the threshold quantities that require reporting, or other changes to emergency response or other regulatory provisions.

But in the letter to Obama, the groups say EPA's current time line for updating the RMP "will jeopardize finalizing a rule before you leave office and therefore needs to be accelerated."

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