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Industrial Safety

Court orders U.S. EPA to implement chemical safety regulation

Industrial risk management regulation delayed too long

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
August 23, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 34


Photo showing wreckage in the foreground and fire burning in the background.
Credit: Larry W. Smith/EPA/Newscom
A 2013 ammonium nitrate explosion in West, Texas, prompted the Obama administration to update EPA's Risk Management Program regulation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must implement a worker and community chemical safety regulation developed by the Obama administration, even as EPA works to replace that rule, a federal court has decided. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit strongly criticized actions of former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who sought a rewrite of the finalized Obama-era Risk Management Program (RMP) regulation for chemical facilities. At the urging of the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups, the Trump EPA attempted to stall implementation of the Obama rule until February 2019 while the agency developed a replacement regulation.

In an opinion issued Aug. 17, the court ruled that a delay beyond three months is not allowed under the Clean Air Act, the law that established RMP. Additionally, the court said EPA’s justification for the delay is based on the needs of the agency and regulated companies but did not consider the impact on safety, human health, and the environment. The delay, the opinion continued, was calculated to avoid compliance with the regulation and makes a “mockery” of the statute.

The RMP regulation, released in the last days of the Obama presidency, calls for better coordination among emergency responders and for independent, third-party audits of companies after an accident or near accident at chemical facilities. It also requires consideration of inherently safer manufacturing approaches.

Some 12,500 plants are covered by the RMP regulation because they handle highly hazardous chemicals. EPA found 1,500 accidents occurred at these facilities over 10 years. A 2013 incident that killed 15 people led to the Obama administration’s overhaul of RMP regulations.

The regulation, rewrite, and delay have generated much heat. Twenty-three states filed briefs supporting or challenging EPA’s withdrawal and delay of the RMP regulation, as did labor unions and industry and community groups.


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