Comments On Rollback of Chemical Safety Rule

Proposed rule; Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act

How to Comment on This Proposal

  1. Review the comments prepared by Indivisible Montgomery (below)
  2. Go to: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725-0890
  3. (Or regulations.gov and search for Docket: EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725-0890)
  4. Type or copy/paste text into the comment field.
  5. Enter your name (optional) and click “continue.” You’ll have the opportunity to review before submitting. You should receive an email confirming your submission.

THE COMMENT PERIOD FOR THIS REGULATION HAS CLOSED

Comment Text  (for copy/paste into comment field)

We are Indivisible Montgomery, a grassroots organization of more than 1300 members based in Montgomery County, Maryland. We are writing to oppose the EPA’s proposal to rollback improvements made to its Risk Management Program in January 2017, which were put in place to reduce the risk of catastrophic accidents at facilities handling large amounts of dangerous chemicals. The common sense requirements of the 2017 rule are based on lessons learned from recent catastrophic chemical accidents–lessons that will sadly be repeated if the EPA goes through with this rollback.

In 1990, Congress amended the Clean Air Act to give EPA the responsibility for establishing a program to prevent and mitigate accidents involving dangerous chemicals, following accidents at chemical facilities that killed and injured people who lived in close proximity. In response, EPA established the Risk Management Program, covering more than 12,500 facilities that handle large amounts of dangerous chemicals.  The program requires facilities to take steps to prevent and mitigate chemical accidents and submit a “risk management plan” to federal, state and local authorities.

This program has reduced the rate of chemical accidents, but catastrophic chemical releases continue to occur. Over the past 13 years, releases at facilities in Texas, Washington, California and Louisiana killed 39 people and injured hundreds more. In the wake of these and other releases, EPA conducted a rulemaking exercise to further reduce the risk of chemical accidents.

In a rule published on January 13, 2017, EPA increased the rigor and effectiveness of the Risk Management Program by implementing several components: root cause analysis, independent audits, consideration of safer technologies, improvements to accident prevention programs, coordination with first responders, and public access to safety information.

EPA’s proposed rollback will eliminate almost all of these improvements. The EPA justifies this by raising concerns about cost, citing Executive Orders that call for reducing regulatory costs and burdens. This rule is estimated to cost $130 million. EPA’s own analyses show the average cost of accidents that would have been covered by this rule the past ten years was $2.75 billion ($275 million per year), far exceeding the regulatory costs.
Communities and emergency responders deserve to know about the dangers that nearby facilities pose to protect themselves. Emergency response agencies should have access to whatever information they need, without having to argue whether it is “necessary.” This is an issue of public safety. EPA and industry representatives cite terrorism as the reason that communities and emergency responders should have less access to chemical safety information. But concerns about terrorism should lead EPA and industry to embrace stronger measures for accident prevention. If we are concerned about terrorists targeting facilities that handle dangerous chemicals, this is all the more reason for facilities to identify ways of making their operations safer so chemical releases are less likely or deadly.

EPA’s explicit emphasis on cost and burden reduction over public safety is wrong.  EPA’s responsibility is to the public, not industry. While it is impossible to know how many accidents the 2017 rule would prevent or mitigate, the benefits of preventing and mitigating catastrophic releases can be a matter of life or death to people living in nearby communities. EPA acknowledges that it has not included in its benefits calculation many important benefits of the 2017 rule. Before EPA abandons the common-sense improvements of the 2017 rule, it must show–not just guess–that the benefits are not worth the cost. EPA should also show that the benefits and costs of repeal are fairly distributed rather than favoring industry at the expense of the public.

EPA’s impact analysis acknowledges that this rollback would put low-income communities and communities of color at greater risk, as many dangerous facilities are located near these communities. We strongly believe that the EPA has a particular responsibility to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.  The environmental and health costs of industrial activity must not be disproportionately borne by already marginalized communities.

America cannot afford to turn back the clock on chemical accident prevention. We must learn from recent tragedies and apply the life-saving lessons they teach. There are 12,500 covered facilities across the country; these regulations directly affect the safety of millions of Americans. For these reasons, we strongly oppose this rule rollback, and urge the EPA to continue to implement these important regulations.

Sincerely,
Indivisible Montgomery

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