In the Wake of Harvey, EPA Critiqued After Decision to Delay Risk Management Plan

by | Sep 11, 2017

The Environmental Protection Agency decision to delay in June 2017 the implementation of the Risk Management Plan rule that had been enacted by the Obama administration is now getting critiqued — especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The purpose of the rule is to reduce the risks associated with hazardous chemicals and to focus on ensuring the safety of chemical facilities.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said on Friday that the risk management rule would force companies to divulge the types of chemicals that manufacturers keep on site and would thus give terrorists the intelligence they would need to carry about out dangerous acts. The EPA chief chosen in June to delay the start date of the rule for 20 months and until February 2019.

While that decision would not have averted any of the explosions that occurred in Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey, critics have lambasted the EPA for postponing the rule and they are saying that it puts Texas communities at risk — as well as their first responders. Multiple explosions happened at Arkema Inc.’s plant in Crosby, Texas beginning August 31.

Pruit said his objective is to make the rule better — not to abolish it altogether. His EPA concluded on Friday that no volatile chemicals had been found in the water after the series of explosions at the Arkema plant. However, it emphasized that such an analysis is not complete and that further investigation is necessary.

Obama’s EPA had said that it conducted interviews with 1,800 people over two years and that the rule it created was well-considered.

“EPA believes that having the source provide directly to the public the materials identified in the rule enhances the public’s ability to participate in emergency planning concerning the stationary source and therefore is consistent with the purposes of the statute,” EPA said in 2016.

“The public’s ability to participate in emergency planning and readiness is enhanced by being better informed about accident history, types of chemicals present, and how to interact with the stationary source,” it continued. “EPA has been selective in identifying what information a source must make available; for example, we are not requiring the facility to provide (a risk management plan) to the public.”

“As a result of initial chemical fires while the facility was flooded, EPA has collected downstream surface water runoff samples at four locations outside the evacuation zone, near residential areas,” EPA said.

“Each flood water sample was analyzed for volatile organic chemicals and semi-volatile organic chemicals likely to come from the Arkema plant,” it added. “No volatile organic chemicals or semi-volatile organic chemicals were detected in the surface water runoff samples. Non-quantifiable and compounds not definitively identified are not reported. It is important to note that chemical analysis alone cannot be used as an indication of water safety. In a flood situation, there are multiple risk factors that can cause harm, industrial chemicals are only one of those risk factors.”

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