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Official Says EPA Will Consider Guidance, Regulations on Inherently Safer Technologies

Monday, September 16, 2013

By Anthony Adragna

Sept. 12 --The Environmental Protection Agency will consider issuing guidance or regulations on the installation of inherently safer technologies at chemical facilities, according to a senior official.

Mathy Stanislaus, the EPA assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response, told the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council the agency will consider such measures as part of a broad discussion on how to improve chemical security.

“I want to put all the issues on the table,” Stanislaus said Sept. 12 at a meeting in Atlanta. “Some view that there's a silver bullet, and I don't think there is. I would like to build a foundation of the issues and then see what actions can be taken on them.”

He said the explosion in April of ammonia nitrate at a fertilizer retailer in West, Texas, brought safety issues with the chemical industry into focus.

Following the explosion, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order No. 13,650 in August directing federal agencies to streamline information sharing, modernize regulations and establish a federal working group on chemical security (37 CRR 913, 8/5/13).

Chemical groups previously told Bloomberg BNA they hope federal agencies will work to improve the implementation and coordination of existing regulatory programs, rather than imposing new ones (37 CRR 985, 8/26/13).

Use of Technologies

Environmental advocates, public interest groups and NEJAC have separately asked the EPA to use its authority under the general duty clause of the Clean Air Act to mandate the installation of inherently safer technologies at chemical facilities.

Inherently safer technologies are generally described as reducing the risks of chemical manufacturing and processing by simplifying process design, replacing hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives, limiting hazardous conditions and minimizing the amounts of hazardous materials used and stored.

Stanislaus, who will lead the federal group charged with implementing Obama's executive order, along with counterparts at the Department of Homeland Security and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the group's recommendations won't address chemical safety during transport.

The assistant administrator said the group will seek to enhance access to facility and chemical storage information among first responders and said it remains “open” to various regulatory options to enhance chemical safety.

Stanislaus said the working group will release documents as it develops its recommendations and said it plans to hold a series of public meetings beginning in late October.

The group's ultimate goal will be to develop a “standard operating procedure” so that federal agencies are aligned in their regulation of chemical facilities.

Climate Plan Coming Soon

The EPA's solid waste office also plans to issue its climate change adaptation plan “in a week or so,” Stanislaus said.

Stanislaus said superfund sites and facilities covered under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act are facing storms with “increased severity” and in locations where severe weather wasn't previously seen.

He pointed to Hurricane Sandy, noting that the design and risk analysis for remediation solutions at many RCRA sites in the region didn't account for hurricane-level storms or storm surges.

Most of the RCRA facilities affected by Sandy fared well, but the EPA continues to assess the sites, Stanislaus said. He said the agency also will look at investments in critical infrastructure, notably wastewater and drinking water facilities.

In a letter obtained by Bloomberg BNA Sept. 11, Stanislaus outlined the agency's interpreted authority on the regulation of chemical safety.

The letter said the agency doesn't plan to issue a regulation defining the scope of the general duty clause because doing so would be “contrary to the Congressional intent” of the clause.

Design, Operation Changes

Stanislaus's letter, dated Aug. 1, said the agency does not have any plans to use the general duty clause to regulate chemical plant security, but it also said the agency believes it has the authority to require chemical facilities to be designed and operated in a manner to prevent chemical accidents.

The letter was addressed to Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who had questioned how the EPA viewed its regulatory role in chemical safety following the explosion in West, Texas (37 CRR 650, 6/3/13).

Michael Kennedy, public policy counsel for the Agricultural Retailers Association, told Bloomberg BNA his organization anticipated discussion of inherently safer technologies but argued that other improvements to chemical safety should take precedence.

“We anticipate discussions to reduce safety risks and security risks in the production and storage of potentially harmful chemicals, including through the use of safer alternatives, adoption of best practices and public-private partnerships,” Kennedy said. “However, EPA needs to first improve coordination among the federal government and local first responders and take into account the capabilities, limitations and needs of the first responder community.”

Greenpeace Supports Effort

Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace, said he was pleased the EPA will consider inherently safer technologies, as a group of organizations had petitioned the agency to do in July 2012.

“If the EPA follows the law, it would be impossible not to consider the most foolproof way to prevent a disaster,” he said.

Pompeo's office was not available for comment on EPA's planned consideration of regulations and guidance concerning inherently safer technologies. The American Chemistry Council also did not respond to a request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Sullivan at jsullivan@bna.com


EPA's letter to Pompeo is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=rlen-9bfmrz.