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June 6 — Federal agencies should consider potential rulemaking to improve the safety and security of chemicals in the U.S. and issue guidance to clarify regulatory programs, an interagency working group recommended June 6.
The recommendations came in a report that summarizes the progress of the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, which was established under President Barack Obama's Executive Order 13,650. The executive order aims to enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities and to reduce risks associated with hazardous chemicals to owners and operators, workers and communities.
The working group recommends that the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Homeland Security take a number of actions within a year:
Other federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also are asked to take actions in the recommendations. The working group said it will conduct public webinars, provide updates on the implementation of the recommendations and work to capture best practices through additional outreach.
“The issuance of the report is a milestone, not an endpoint,” the report states. “Agencies, in coordination with the broad range of stakeholders, have transitioned to implementation of these priority actions, which will be completed over time.”
The interagency group released a broad list of “policy options” for feedback in January. In response, many organizations submitting comments faulted the working group for seeking comment on such an unfocused list of potential options and warned the group against using guidance to circumvent the rulemaking process.
While the recommendations don't specifically rule out regulations on inherently safer technologies, they don't go as far as environmental and public health advocates had sought.
The working group said its approach aims to “encourage chemical facilities to integrate safer technology and alternatives into a facility's process safety programs.”
To achieve that aim, the EPA and OSHA should release an alert on inherently safer technologies within a year detailing concepts, principles and examples of the technologies, the report said. Many companies, particular smaller ones, may not be aware of potential solutions and available alternatives, it said.
Following the alert, the agencies would prepare voluntary guidance on inherently safer technologies that would “serve as an advisory to the regulated community as to how EPA and OSHA view safer technology and alternatives.”
After soliciting public feedback on both the alert and voluntary guidance, the agencies would consider potential regulations that wouldn't “determine specific technology, design, or process selection by chemical facility owners or operators.”
Environmental groups and some Democratic senators have called for the EPA to require inherently safer technologies under the Clean Air Act as a way to ensure better protection of human health and the environment.
In a statement, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chairs, will hold an oversight hearing to review the recommendations.
“This report is an important step in the process of ensuring that the nation's chemical facilities are safer and more secure,” Boxer said.
Industry groups said they were pleased with certain specific steps and actions outlined in the recommendations, but said they would need additional time to fully consider them.
The Agricultural Retailers Association said it is encouraged by commitments from the federal agencies to work to improve coordination and communication among agencies, emergency responders and the private sector.
“The report is the result of thorough and comprehensive consultations between the agencies, industry, community interests and others,” Daren Coppock, president of the association, said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA. “We would like to see this coordination taken one step further: Make it easier for those submitting reports to comply by providing a single interface to submit the multiple required reports at the same time to eliminate duplicate data entry. Easing the paperwork burden will help improve overall compliance.”
The American Chemistry Council said in a statement it is encouraged by the working group's incorporation of industry groups' suggestions to improve regulatory coordination and information sharing, but it remained concerned about the potential for new regulatory programs.
“We are concerned that the report calls for the development of new requirements as a means to modernizing EPA and OSHA standards,” the group said. “We believe that the Working Group should consider such measures as strengthening regulatory oversight through improved enforcement, outreach and compliance assistance to support existing regulatory requirements.”
Bill Allmond, vice president of government at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, said the society will continue to review the recommendations but is pleased with its emphasis on improving coordination between federal agencies and local first responders.
The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, comprising more than 100 environmental and public health organizations, said the recommendations didn't go far enough and called on agencies to develop mandatory inherently safer technologies regulations within 18 months.
“If the Obama administration is serious about protecting workers and communities, the president must stand up for prevention requirements that include safer chemicals and processes,” the coalition said in a statement. “They, and millions of Americans like them, deserve real safeguards from the threat of chemical disasters that are adopted as enforceable requirements—not just voluntary recommendations that the industry can ignore until the next disaster.”
Federal agencies pledged in the recommendations to issue a series of new guidance documents to help chemical facilities—both large and small—understand and comply with the wide variety of regulations.
The EPA committed to publishing guidance on public safety at oil and gas facilities where unauthorized access has resulted in several fatal accidents. The DHS said it will issue guidance on its CFATS risk-based performance standards to “increase stakeholder understanding and compliance” with the program.
Agencies also said they would develop a comprehensive regulatory fact sheet to raise awareness about various programs and will develop a checklist to allow companies to “determine regulations applicable to their facilities.” The working group said it hopes to develop a mobile version of the checklist.
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The report Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security is available at https://www.osha.gov/chemicalexecutiveorder/final_chemical_eo_status_report.pdf.
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