EPA Extends Comment Period for Proposal to Reconsider RMP Rule Amendments
July 31, 2018
On July 24, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register a notice of data availability and extension of the comment period for its May 30 proposed rule to reconsider the final Risk Management Program (RMP) amendments. The extension follows an inquiry from nonprofit EarthJustice, which questions 2017 RMP data that EPA collected from industrial facilities and used to roll back the RMP amendments.
EPA officially finalized the RMP amendments on Jan. 13, 2017; however, the effective date of the final RMP amendments was delayed several times, with the last one delaying the amendments until Feb.19, 2019. Since the final RMP amendments have not become effective yet, EPA is now proposing to rollback several provisions of that 2017 RMP rule. Among others, EPA is proposing to rescind amendments relating to third-party compliance audits, safer technology and alternatives analyses, incident investigations, and information availability to the public. In addition, EPA is also proposing to retain, modify, or incorporate some amendments relating to local emergency response coordination, emergency response exercises, and CBI protections. More information can also be found on EPA’s website.
The agency is now accepting comments on its proposal through Aug. 23, 2018. ACA is seeking member input on any concerns with EPA’s latest proposal.
In general, EPA’s RMP program applies to all stationary sources with processes that contain more than a threshold of a regulated substance. The program’s elements are intended to prevent accidental releases and reduce the severity of releases that occur. All sources must prepare and submit an RMP to EPA at least every five years. In addition, RMP Program 3 facilities involve processes subject to OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard or are in one of the specified NAICS codes, such as chemical manufacturing. Together, PSM and RMP form the regulatory framework for prevention of catastrophic chemical accidents at fixed facilities. Several ACA companies have facilities subject to RMP requirements, particularly Program 3 facilities, which have the most stringent requirements. ACA’s main concern with the 2017 RMP amendments was that the changes would not actually enhance chemical facility safety, but would instead create significant administrative burdens and higher compliance costs without commensurate benefits in safety.
In May 2017, ACA submitted comments to EPA in support of the agency’s proposed rule to further delay the effective date of the RMP regulation. ACA underscored that during this proposed delay, the existing RMP regulations will remain in place, and noted that the already robust RMP requirements have resulted in a steady decline in reportable accidental releases over the past 20 years. From 2004 to 2013, EPA data shows that there were roughly 12,500 facilities subject to RMP. During that 10-year span, 92 percent of these facilities had no RMP reportable accidents. This decline in reportable accidental chemical releases is expected to continue under the existing RMP regulations.
The 2017 RMP rule amendments encountered extreme resistance since EPA first issued them in mid-January 2017. EPA stated that the amendments made to the final rule were aimed at modernizing RMP by (1) making changes to the accident prevention program requirements, (2) enhancing the emergency response and preparedness requirements, and (3) modifying the information availability requirements. However, numerous industry members and trade associations pushed back against implementation of these amendments.
ACA has commented that the 2017 RMP amendments did not appear to enhance chemical safety. Rather, they seemed to create and impose significant administrative burdens and high compliance costs without commensurate benefits in safety. ACA maintained that the amendments also lack a sufficient cost-benefit analysis in some new, major provisions. In addition, ACA asserted that the RMP final rule amendments raised national security concerns because of the mandate on companies to provide sensitive chemical and operational information to the public upon request.