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By Sam Pearson
EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt avoided specific answers to questions about tougher regulatory policies for high-risk chemical facilities, according to documents released by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s top Democrat Jan. 25.
But industry groups continue to battle against a pending Environmental Protection Agency rule for safety information sharing.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the panel’s ranking member, asked Pruitt if “the burden should be on a chemical facility operator to show that the design and operation of the facility is as safe as possible to protect workers and the public from explosions, fires and other releases of toxic chemicals.”
A related EPA rulemaking to place new information sharing and safety auditing requirements on certain chemical facilities (RIN:2050-AG82) has drawn sharp opposition from Pruitt, industry groups and Republican lawmakers, who have called for its withdrawal.
Carper’s question appeared to be referring to an inherently-safer technology mandate, a proposal favored by some advocacy groups that would require high-risk facilities to evaluate their processes, identify ways to improve safety and shift to those methods if possible.
Pruitt responded, “I believe that every American should be provided safe home and work environments and people who live or work in and around chemical facilities are no exception to that.”
Asked if chemical companies should take actions to prevent explosions and fires when feasible measures exist, Pruitt said companies “should take actions to prevent explosions and fires as well as other safety incidents.” But he declined to specify what actions companies should take under under what circumstances they should do so.
Even for safer technologies or chemicals that are feasible for plants to switch to, Pruitt wrote, companies should consider if the changes “improve safety in one area but shift risks to create new and potentially more serious concerns,” Pruitt wrote.
Industry groups—with Pruitt’s support—are also pressuring congressional leaders to rescind the EPA regulation through the Congressional Review Act. In a letter Jan. 25, 21 industry groups including the Agricultural Retailers Association, American Chemistry Council, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute and others urged lawmakers to cancel the rule.
The rule “not only imposes significant new costs without identifying or quantifying the safety benefits that will be achieved through these new requirements, it may actually compromise the security of our facilities, emergency responders and our communities,” said the letter, which was sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The regulation has already been targeted on a list released by the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has said he expects it to be blocked.
The letter added the current regulations already promote safety “and will continue to drive continuous safety improvements.”
In proposing the rule last month, Mathy Stanislaus, then the EPA’s assistant administrator for land and emergency management, noted that more than 1,500 accidents were reported at facilities in the program in the past 10 years, “causing nearly 60 deaths.”
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The industry groups' letter is available at http://src.bna.com/lIr.
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