EPA Proposed Rule: A Missed Opportunity to Prevent Chemical Plant Disasters

Feb 26, 2016, 14:00 ET from Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters issued the following statement in response to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed "Modernization of the Accidental Release Prevention Regulations under Clean Air Act," http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-02/documents/rmp_modernization_nprm_2050-ag82_20160224v3.pdf

As a result of President Obama's August 1, 2013 Executive Order (#13650), the EPA took an important step in proposing that certain high risk chemical plants assess the feasibility of safer technologies.  However, it will be a tragic missed opportunity if in the final rule the EPA allows these facilities to conceal the results of their assessments from the residents, schools, and hospitals near these facilities (as proposed by the Agency), and fails to prevent future disasters by requiring the use of safer alternatives for all hazardous facilities where they are feasible.

Since 2009 both consideration and adoption of inherently safer technologies were stated as "core principles" for chemical facility security by the Obama administration. https://wayback.archive-it.org/4949/20141224015128/http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Testimony-Beers-EE-Drinking-Water-System-Security-CFAT-Act-2009-10-1.pdf

Among the other ways the proposed rule fails:

  • It fails to require chemical facilities to send their safer alternatives analysis (STAA) to the EPA or share with the public.
  • It exempts 87 percent of the 12,543 (RMP) chemical facilities from requirements to conduct STAAs, including water treatment facilities, some of which put major cities at risk of a catastrophic release of chlorine gas.
  • Although the proposed rule's projected annual cost would be a fraction of the average cost of damages wrought by chemical disasters, the rule fails to require facilities to assess the avoided costs and catastrophic liability facilities would benefit from by adopting safer chemical processes.
  • It fails to establish a publicly accessible clearinghouse of safer available alternatives that could encourage and support the adoption of safer alternatives by more facilities.
  • It suggests using a patch work of company web sites, libraries or government offices to disclose information on facility hazards to emergency planners and community residents, but fails to propose a one stop 24/7 access to the same information via an EPA web site.
  • It fails to propose buffer zones around existing facilities or restrictions on the location of new facilities in populated areas.

As a result, most of the proposed rule is focused on post-disaster measures such as accident investigations, emergency response, evacuations and shelter in place. Without more emphasis on prevention, many more response resources will be needed for the additional incidents and resulting deaths, injuries and property damage that will occur.   

According to the EPA "in the past 10 years nearly 60 people died, some 17,000 people were injured or sought medical treatment, and almost 500,000 people were evacuated or sheltered-in-place as a result of accidental releases at chemical plants. During that time, more than 1,500 incidents were reported causing over $2 billion in property damages."  Since the April 17, 2013 West, Texas disaster that inspired this rule there have been over 430 incidents and 82 deaths. http://preventchemicaldisasters.org/resources/158971-2/

President Obama was a leader on prevention in the Senate and as President issued executive order.  Posterity will not look kindly on our failure to prevent chemical disasters today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARMMiH1UjSk

The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters is composed of over 100 environmental justice, labor, public health, national security, and environmental organizations. 


SOURCE Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters