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The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule requires facilities storing specific chemicals above certain threshold amounts to develop risk management programs to prevent and mitigate accidents that could release those chemicals into the environment. Just what the RMP rule entails has been the subject of debate since EPA first proposed the RMP Amendments in 2016. Rules related to RMP requirements have been published, petitioned, delayed, vacated, reissued, and reconsidered. As the most recent action in the ongoing RMP saga, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the RMP Reconsideration Rule on November 21, 2019.
According to EPA Administrator Wheeler, the intent of the RMP Reconsideration Rule is to promote “improved coordination between chemical facilities and emergency responders, reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, and address security risks associated with previous amendments to the RMP rule.”
What does that entail? In the final Reconsideration Rule, many of the major provisions that were added in the RMP Amendments Rule are rescinded, including the following requirements to:
- Hire a third-party to conduct a compliance audit after an RMP reportable accident. EPA retains the right to still require a third-party audit, when appropriate.
- Conduct a Safer Technologies and Alternatives Analysis (STAA). Again, this can still be required by EPA but is already encouraged under the rule’s existing Process Hazard Analysis (PHA) provisions.
- Conduct and document a root cause analysis after an RMP reportable accident/near miss, in efforts to maintain consistency with the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard.
- Make very broadly defined information available by facility to the public upon request to alleviate potential security/terrorism threats.
A number of other requirements, particularly as it relates to local emergency coordination and training exercises have been retained and/or modified, as follows:
- Requirements that facilities must coordinate annually and document coordination with local response organizations.
- Annual notification drills to confirm that emergency contact information is accurate.
- Requirement to perform field and tabletop exercises as a way to train facility personnel and local responders.
- Frequency of 3-year tabletop exercises to ensure regular emergency training is conducted.
- Provision to reduce potential security risks associated with avoiding the open-ended information disclosure provision.
- Frequency of field exercises by removing the ten-year minimum requirement to reduce burden on local emergency responders.
- Scope and documentation provisions for field and tabletop exercises to reduce burden.
- Requirement to hold a public meeting after an incident that has offsite impacts vs. releases with only onsite impacts.
The EPA RMP Website provides additional information and resources, as well as a copy of the complete RMP Reconsideration Rule and the updated requirements.
According to the EPA RMP Reconsideration Final Rule Fact Sheet, the final rule retains the prevention provisions that have resulted in the trend of fewer significant chemical accidents, which have declined more than 50% since RMP was first published in 1999. With the RMP Reconsideration Rule, EPA’s intent is to take a more risk-based approach that focuses on the highest risk facilities (i.e., the less than 2% of RMP facilities reporting multiple releases), as opposed to the 90+% of RMP facilities who reported no accidents from 2007-2016.
RMP regulates approximately 12,500 facilities, including agricultural supply distributors, waste/wastewater treatment facilities, chemical manufacturers and distributors, food and beverage manufacturers, chemical warehouses, oil refineries and other chemical facilities. As a whole, industry has commended EPA for taking a more risk-based approach to RMP that reduces the regulatory burden on industry:
- “The RMP program has been working very well. The data clearly shows a continuous reduction in accidents of regulated facilities. It is important for EPA to focus on compliance assistance efforts and promoting enhanced coordination between RMP facilities and local first responders.” Richard Gupton, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Counsel, Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA)
- “SOCMA and its members have been actively engaged in the reconsideration of the 2017 RMP Amendments and has been supportive of the Agency’s efforts to delay implementation of the prior rule while it conducted reconsideration proceedings. This final rule will provide much-needed certainty at facilities seeking to understand and achieve their RMP compliance obligations.” Robert Helminiak, Vice President of Legal and Government Relations, Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA)
- “We commend the EPA for developing a rule that reflects the extensive feedback the agency received through a comprehensive and thoughtful process to seek public input. The agency wisely incorporated the recommendation to strike the right balance of sharing vital safety information with emergency responders and protecting sensitive security information. EPA also followed the recommendation to utilize the EPA’s latest data to identify areas where more focused compliance assistance is needed to help facilities further reduce the number of reportable safety incidents.” Mike, Walls, Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs, American Chemical Council (ACC)
- “NACD commends EPA for taking our recommended changes to the 2017 rule seriously and for instead pursuing a commonsense approach that improves facility safety without hamstringing businesses with burdensome requirements that have no proven benefit.” Jennifer Gibson, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD)
As the regulatory history with the RMP Rule demonstrates, it remains important for impacted companies to stay on top of the requirements, coordinate efforts with local emergency responders, and plan accordingly. For companies impacted by the RMP Reconsideration Rule, it is important to:
- Understand the hazards posed by chemicals at the facility
- Assess the impacts of a potential release
- Design and maintain a safe facility to prevent accidental releases
- Coordinate with local emergency responders
- Minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur
Kestrel Tellevate LLC (KTL) has experience working with a broad cross-section of industries impacted by RMP, particularly chemical companies. We have created RMP and General Duty Clause audit protocol and conducted audits and investigation/improvement programs following significant release events. We also routinely work with Local Emergency Planning Commissions (LEPCs) to coordinate emergency response efforts and exercises.
Our understanding of the regulations and industry needs spans years of experience and commitment to helping industry comply with regulations and operate more efficiently. For example, KTL developed and implemented the Guidance Manual and Training Modules for the Responsible Care Management System (RCMS) and RC14001, ACC’s management system integrating environmental, safety/process safety and security. KTL is also a Preferred Provider of compliance services for NACD member companies and a recognized NACD Responsible Distribution Adviser, providing in-depth support for members and affiliates during Responsible Distribution implementation and integration with other management systems and EHS compliance initiatives.
Regulatory enforcement-driven projects such as those related to RMP require skills in regulatory strategy, negotiations, expert analysis, presentations and testimony—and, equally important—trust and relationship building. KTL can work with companies to:
- Identify/understand/prioritize compliance risks
- Outline steps to improve performance
- Define organizational roles and responsibilities
- Streamline compliance methods
- Plan and conduct required tabletop exercises and coordinate with local emergency response
- Implement, monitor, and continually improve