Risk Management at Risk: The EPA Needs Time to Review Controversial New Safety Measures

By Jacqueline Campos

In the final days of the Obama administration, the EPA published an amendment to the RMP, affecting chemical facilities and oil refineries. The amendment sought to improve accident prevention efforts and strengthen coordination, communication and public information accessibility. The highly controversial changes to the plan, published in January, were set to take effect March 2017. However, facing intense pressure from a host of industry groups, the EPA granted a 90-day stay just days prior to its effective date. On March 29, the EPA further delayed the effective date by signing off on a proposed rule extending the effective date to February 19, 2019.

The RMP rule has been in place for nearly 25 yr now. It requires covered facilities to develop and implement a framework for dealing with hazardous chemicals. According to the EPA, the RMP requirements include developing programs for the following:

  • A hazard assessment that details the potential effects of an accidental release, an accident history of the last 5 yr, and an evaluation of worst-case and alternative accidental releases
  • A prevention program that includes safety precautions and maintenance, monitoring and employee training measures
  • An emergency response program that explains emergency health care, employee training measures and procedures for informing the public and first response agencies (e.g., the fire department), should an accident occur.

The EPA shares these programs with state and local officials to coordinate efforts in planning for and preventing chemical accidents and releases.

Modernizing the program

In 2013, following an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas that resulted in the deaths of 15 people, President Obama signed an executive order directing the EPA to modernize the RMP program. Much of the EPA’s proposal was driven by the notion that this disaster occurred due to carelessness and improperly managed hazardous materials.

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