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EPA Public Hearing Provides Forum for Prevention Coalition

by Brian Gilman

April 14, 2016

March 29, 2016 members of the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters voiced their concerns to EPA on proposed toxic chemical safety regulations as industry lobby efforts aim to depict regulatory overstep.

& Justice, and Greenpeace activists hold a sign that reads "President Obama, Prevent Chemical Disasters" outside the DC headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before a public hearing on the Proposed Changes to the Risk Management Program (RMP), which concerns hundreds of at-risk water treatment facilities and chemical plants, and the populations that leave near them.

The EPA public hearing on proposed Risk Management Plan (RMP) rules, on March 29, was an opportunity for the chemical lobby and the public to provide input to the EPA about the newly proposed rule before they finalize it, hopefully before the end of this year.

The EPA published the proposed RMP rule in response to President Obama’s Executive Order 13650which directed federal agencies to modernize safety and security rules in the wake of the West, Texas fertilizer tragedy. This rule has the potential to finally bring forth regulations that focus on prevention rather than emergency response.

Greenpeace and coalition allies, as well as industry representatives, were present at the hearing to voice concerns for the rule, of which there are many.

Advances in Technology

William Erny of the American Chemistry Council criticized the EPA’s modest proposal to have 13 percent of chemical plants do a feasibility analysis of safer alternatives, saying that it was “highly complex.” He went on to cite the EPA’s 1996 final RMP rule, in which it was concluded that the EPA  “does not believe that a requirement that owners or operators conduct searches or analyses of alternative process technologies for new or existing processes will produce significant additional benefits.’’  He also asserted that information about safer alternatives represented sensitive security Information that should not be made public.

On page 27 of the current rule, the EPA specifically acknowledges the 1996 rule, conceding that advances in IST have been made: “EPA now believes that there is a benefit in requiring that some facilities evaluate whether they can improve risk management of current hazards through potential implementation of ISTs or risk management measures that are more robust and reliable than ones currently in use at the facility.” It is amazing the difference 20 years can make in the scientific community.

Public Transparency Is Paramount

Making information about safer alternatives publicly available  is as essential for the EPA in Washington as it is for environmental justice communities living next to high risk plants. Communities need to know the kinds of feasible alternatives that are available to hold chemical companies accountable. 

Additionally, the EPA needs this information to be submitted to the Agency to evaluate how thorough the safer alternatives assessments have been and to understand how many facilities can feasibly convert. Yogin Kathari, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, pointed out that “The RMP will only be an effective tool for public health and safety if the essential information and accountability tools are easily accessible, available, and usable by the most vulnerable populations.”

While Yogin articulated the views of environmental justice and safety groups, David Halperin, former National Security Council and Senate Intelligence Committee staff said, “I don’t see how President Obama, who offered such a clear perspective on this danger, would want to read that his EPA’s final rule was exposed as far too weak by groups representing communities living near these hazardous plants, by unions representing chemical plant workers, by national security experts like General Manner and General Honore, and others.”

May 13, 2016 Deadline

Mathy Stanislaus,  Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management, met with reporters before the hearing saying, “We’re going to move forward as quickly as possible” to complete the rule before the end of this year. Now the attention is being focused on compiling and submitting thoughtful responses to the EPA before the May 13th deadline.

To take action and voice your concerns, submit a written comment to the EPA here.

Brian Gilman

By Brian Gilman

Brian Gilman is an intern with Greenpeace’s toxics campaign. He has had hands-on, regulatory experience with toxic chemicals and the field of environmental compliance as a contractor for the Navy.

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