Delay in EPA’s Chemical Storage Rule Overlooks Inadequate Chemical Management

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Administrator Scott Pruitt is supporting an industry request to delay and further review the amended chemical safety regulation. This regulation came about in response to the 2013 West, Texas chemical-related explosion and imposes stricter requirements for industry-prepared risk management plans. The amendment, called the Chemical Storage rule, zeroes in on accidental release prevention requirements by specifically focusing on safe chemical storage.

Regulations already exist to reduce chemical management risk, but these haven’t prevented lack of safety procedures, safety plans or accidents. When these occur, it is not necessarily the business that suffers but everyone else. For instance, the West, Texas explosion caused by poorly stored ammonium nitrate may have destroyed the plant and put the fertilizer company out of business, but it had a deeper impact on the surrounding community because it not only resulted in the deaths of 15 workers, but also damaged buildings for miles around. Greater oversight would have unearthed and corrected the problem and reduced risk.

The delay in implementing the Chemical Storage rule was pushed by chemical industry lobbyists who complained that the rule could make it easier for terrorists and other criminals to target refineries, chemical plants and other facilities by requiring companies to make public the types and quantities of chemicals stored on site. This is nonsense. Such information is already required by chemical management rules, including the Department of Homeland Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard (CFATS), 6 CFR Part 27, which provides just such oversight already but only if the chemical exceeds threshold quantities. If those quantities aren’t reported – which is often the case – then either CFATS should be strengthened or the Chemical Storage rule should be implemented.

Frankly, businesses do not provide enough information now about chemicals on site. Many of these chemical substances are not stored correctly or kept in areas where they should not. Take, for instance, the 2014 chemical spill of crude 4-methylcyclohexamenthanol (MCHM) that was released into the Elk River in West Virginia upstream of the principal water intake and treatment plant for the region. Oops. Not only was the MCHM stored in an aging compromised container (bad), it was stored in an inappropriate location (very bad). It would have cost Freedom Industries, the company that stored the MCGM, money to either replace the storage container or move the substance to a different location. That’s what the lobbyists are really objecting to, that poor chemical management will be revealed and that businesses will need to improve their chemical management activities. Which will cost money to implement. Money that’s not been budgeted and which will cut into profits.

Hazardous chemical incidents occur frequently. More than 1,500 chemical releases or explosions were reported from 2004 to 2013, causing 58 deaths and more than 17,000 injuries, according to the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, an advocacy group. That’s an accident rate of almost 14 a month or every other day. How can this possibly be acceptable?

The public is the one who pays after an incident, not the perpetrator. Right now businesses are already required to submit reports concerning the types and quantities of chemicals stored on site. Many different regulations already require this, but it is difficult to ensure compliance when there is little oversight. For instance, Fire Code regulations require that this information be provided annually in order for first responders to accurately respond to any incidents. The proposed Chemical Storage rule simply tightens the safety requirements. Any claims that it impedes business is a smokescreen for non-compliance. All such facilities already have security measures in place to prevent unauthorized access. Delaying the EPA Chemical Storage rule would not divert resources from existing safety programs if those programs aren’t in fact ensuring safety in the first place.

Posted by Helen Gillespie

Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA Offer Questionable Benefits

ruhr-area-882265_640What do President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mean? Reduced oversight? Increased chance of toxic and hazardous materials accidents? Premature return of Superfund sites to the community before hazardous waste cleanup has been completed? How can this possibly be beneficial to American businesses when it would be so obviously detrimental to the American people? Business has a long history of reluctance to ensure safety without regulatory oversight. Cuts to EPA programs will mean cuts to worker safety and heightened risk.

In the Trump administration’s preview of the White House’s 2018 budget request to Congress, Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding would be cut by $2.6 billion, or 31 percent – the largest proposed reduction for any federal agency.

The Budget states: “The President’s 2018 Budget requests $5.7 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a savings of $2.6 billion, or 31 percent, from the 2017 annualized CR level.” Savings? That doesn’t sound like a budget cut. Yet that statement is in stark contrast to how the Budget treats the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) budget directly following. In this instance the document states “The President’s 2018 Budget requests $19.1 billion for NASA, a 0.8 percent decrease from the 2017 annualized CR level, with targeted increases consistent with the President’s priorities.” Why aren’t NASA’s cuts considered a savings?

Further, some 3,200 EPA employees will be laid off to accommodate the budget cuts. So much for President Trump’s promises about creating jobs. Not happening here. 3,200 jobs are not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly is for the ones who will be fired.

The greatest impact of the EPA’s budget cuts is that many programs will be eliminated because the Budget claims that existing State environmental rules and programs already perform the same activities. That’s a rather broad statement. California may well have similar or more restrictive rules, but many states do not, nor can they afford to implement such rules. As a result, the budget cuts effectively eliminate EPA rules and oversight for those states. Further, State regulations typically supplement Federal ones, and do not repeat requirements. In reality, this Budget might cause more problems than it solves.

What the Budget emphatically states is that funding will be discontinued for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts. It claims to deliver $100 million in savings, yet these programs are designed to deliver future savings across a broad spectrum from reduced health impact to reduced dependence on fossil fuels. The “savings” appear to be a myopic approach that disregards long-term benefits.

The Budget provides Congress and the public with “a view of the president’s priorities.” Fortunately, because Congress writes the final budget, there are no guarantees that all the cuts will be approved.