EPA Enacts Historic Safety Regulations to Shield Communities from Chemical Accidents

by | Mar 14, 2024

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The safety and well-being of communities at risk of chemical accidents were significantly advanced on February 27, 2024, when Michael S. Regan, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), signed the “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention” rule. This rule, set to amend the Risk Management Program, introduces essential revisions aimed at protecting communities located near high-risk industrial facilities from the adverse effects of chemical accidents. It was published in the Federal Register and is slated to come into effect on May 10, 2024. Regulated entities will have a three-year period from the effective date to achieve compliance with the revised Risk Management Program (RMP), with the possibility of an extension by an additional year in certain cases.

The rule is in acknowledgement of the heightened risks faced by communities situated close to industrial sectors known for high accident rates. It introduces a suite of new protective measures, notably emphasizing the need for the identification and adoption of safer technologies and chemical alternatives. The regulation requires the deployment of dependable safety measures in certain situations, enhances the depth of incident investigations, and integrates third-party audits into its safety protocols. The primary aim of these enhancements is to reduce both the frequency and severity of chemical releases, thus delivering significant benefits to communities near such facilities. This regulation marks a progressive, yet substantial step forward in the effort to offer better protection to vulnerable groups from the dangers posed by chemical accidents.

The EPA has expressed gratitude for the stakeholder input received throughout the rule-making process. This collaborative effort was crucial in developing a thorough proposal and, ultimately, enacting an effective final rule. The amendments introduced are multifaceted, including:

Mandatory Safer Technologies and Alternatives Analysis: Now, facilities within industry sectors notorious for their high accident rates are obligated to perform analyses on safer technologies and alternatives. In specific instances, this requirement extends to the adoption of proven safeguard measures.

Empowerment and Training of Employees: The amendments bolster employee participation and training, enhancing opportunities for employees to engage in decision-making processes aimed at preventing accidents. Importantly, the rule reasserts the option for partial or complete process shutdowns in scenarios where a catastrophic release is imminent, and it creates avenues for employees and their representatives to anonymously report unaddressed hazards.

Third-party Compliance Audits and Incident Investigation: Facilities that have experienced previous accidents are now required to undergo third-party compliance audits and to carry out a root cause analysis for investigating incidents.

Improved Emergency Response and Planning: The rule aims to strengthen emergency response measures by ensuring the timely dissemination of chemical release information to local emergency responders. It also mandates the creation of a community notification system to warn residents of any impending chemical releases.

Focus on Natural Hazards and Climate Change: Regulated facilities are now responsible for assessing the risks posed by natural hazards and climate change, which includes considerations for potential losses of power.

Enhanced Transparency: By allowing communities greater access to information about Risk Management Program (RMP) facilities, the rule aims to increase transparency and thereby strengthen community trust and safety.

Historical Context

The rule’s origins trace back to January 2017, when the RMP Amendments Final Rule introduced new mandates for accident prevention, response, and public information disclosure. However, the implementation of key provisions was halted, with most never coming into effect. A reversal occurred in 2019, as the RMP Reconsideration Final Rule rescinded or modified several measures from the 2017 rule. The proposal for the “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention” rule was then published in August 2022, culminating in the comprehensive and protective measures that have now been finalized.

This rule symbolizes a proactive approach to chemical safety, aiming to prevent accidents before they occur and ensure that communities are not only informed but also protected against potential chemical hazards. Through these stringent requirements and the promotion of safer alternatives, the EPA is making a clear statement on the importance of community safety in the context of industrial operations.

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