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EPA chief delays industrial chemical safety regulation

Rule is intended to protect communities and workers from accidents

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
March 15, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 12

Photo from the air shows leveled building in West, Texas, after the 2013 explosion and fire.
Credit: Mark Wingard/CSB
EPA is delaying its safety regulation issued in response to the 2013 fatal fire at a West, Texas, warehouse that stored ammonium nitrate.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has backed an industry request for delay and review of a new chemical safety regulation that sprang from the deaths of 15 people in a calamitous 2013 accident in Texas.

The new regulation would toughen requirements for industry-prepared risk management plans (RMP) intended to protect communities and workers from chemical-related accidents.

Pruitt’s decision will delay implementation of the rule for 90 days, EPA says, adding that further extensions may be needed.

“As an agency, we need to be responsive to concerns raised by stakeholders regarding regulations so facility owners and operators know what is expected of them,” Pruitt said on March 13, as he directed the agency to delay the effective date of the final regulation until June 19.

Seven trade associations sought the EPA review, including the American Chemistry Council, a trade group of chemical manufacturers. In a petition, they said the regulation was unnecessary and insufficient time had been provided for comments. They also objected to new provisions for third-party safety audits after a chemical release or accident and sections calling for companies to consider implementing inherently safer processes.

Industry also asked Congress to intervene. Legislation pending in the House of Representatives (H.J. Res. 59) and Senate (S.J. Res. 28) would overturn the rule and prevent EPA from issuing one that is substantially similar to it.

A spokesperson for Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), who is leading the effort to overturn the regulation in the House, says the rule would have gone into effect on March 21. The extension Pruitt granted was needed to give Congress time to pass legislation, she says.

The rule followed an April 2013 incident in which a retail agricultural warehouse in the small Texas community caught fire. Several hundred tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded, killing 13 volunteer firefighters and two residents and flattening schools and other structures.

Within months, President Barack Obama issued an executive order requiring some dozen federal agencies to examine their safety regulations. After three years of meetings, public comments, and reviews, EPA issued the final RMP rule on Jan. 13 as the only regulation to emerge from the executive order.



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