Lawmakers Target OSHA Retail Exemption

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By Sam Pearson

July 14 — Lawmakers moved to keep the brakes on a controversial OSHA regulation for fertilizer storage facilities through the appropriations process and standalone legislation this week.

A bill introduced July 14 by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), the Fertilizer Access and Responsible Management (FARM) Act, would block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from requiring sites storing or transporting 10,000 or more pounds of anhydrous ammonia to participate in the Process Safety Management program.

OSHA made the change in July 2015 by issuing a guidance document stating the agency was reinterpreting statutory language. Lawmakers from agricultural areas have warned the switch could burden small retailers and make it harder for farmers to obtain needed fertilizer.

Blockage

Congress blocked the reinterpretation last year through a policy rider in the omnibus spending bill in December 2015, but that is due to expire September 30th at the close of the fiscal year.

In a statement July 14, Fischer said OSHA “has circumvented Congress and public input by introducing new rules that will make it harder for farmers to do their job.”

Critics said the agency should have conducted a traditional rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act, which would have let industry groups file public comments. However, the process would have significantly delayed implementation of the change.

The FARM Act would require OSHA to withdraw the guidance document and require a notice-and-comment rulemaking.

Draft Funding Bill for Labor Approved

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee approved July 14 a draft funding bill for the Department of Labor and related agencies. The fiscal 2017 Labor and Health and Human Services funding bill included language blocking the changes unless conducted under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved similar restrictions June 9.

Safety advocates have called the change a needed step to tighten security at fertilizer storage sites. In a report issued earlier this year on the 2013 ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, the Chemical Safety Board offered support for limiting the retail exemption, saying it may have prompted the Texas plant to take a closer look at its inventory.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Pearson at spearson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The text of the FARM Act is available at http://src.bna.com/gNK

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