EPA Rescinds Major Provisions in Obama-Era RMP Rule

The Trump administration has rescinded and modified several major provisions in the Risk Management Program (RMP) rule that was added in the closing days of the Obama administration.

The Obama administration initiated the amendments to the RMP rule in the wake of the April 2013 West Fertilizer Co. explosion in West, Texas. President Obama issued Executive Order 13650, which called for enhanced information collection and sharing and modernization of rules and regulations. Following the issuance of the Executive Order, the EPA proposed amendments to the RMP rule in March 2016. After the proposal, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives concluded the West Fertilizer Co. explosion was not an accident but caused by arson. Nevertheless, the EPA moved forward, finalizing the amendments in January 2017.

Several petitions for reconsideration of the amended rule were filed, most notably by the RMP Coalition, the Chemical Safety Advocacy Group and several state governments. Under the Trump administration, the EPA proposed a rule to address the Obama-era amendments and recently finalized that rule, calling it the RMP Reconsideration Rule. Essentially, the finalized rule acts on and addresses the various grounds included in the reconsideration petitions.

In the RMP Reconsideration Rule, the EPA rescinded four key provisions. First, the agency rescinded the requirement to hire a third-party for conducting a compliance audit following a reportable accident. The EPA found that this provision was not necessary, as it already had the general authority to require such audits.

Second, the EPA rescinded the requirement to assess theoretically safer technology and alternative risk management measures applicable to the elimination or reduction of risk from process hazards. To support this rescission, the EPA noted the RMP rule’s existing provisions already encourage facilities to implement safer technologies by requiring periodic reevaluation of process hazards; the amendments did not require the implementation of any technologies considered, so a rescission would not result in an impact on safety; and it was the costliest of the amended provisions at $70 million.

Third, the EPA rescinded the requirement to conduct and document a root cause analysis after a reportable accident or near-miss in order to maintain consistency with the OSHA Process Safety Management standard.

Finally, the EPA rescinded the requirement to make information, which was very broadly defined, available to the public on request, citing one agency’s warning that releasing information of this nature could assist terrorists in selecting targets and/or increase the severity of an attack. Specifically, the EPA rescinded the requirement for an owner or operator to provide specified chemical hazard information for all regulated processes within 45 days of receiving a request by any member of the public. The final rule clarified that local emergency responders can obtain information necessary for developing and implementing local emergency response plans.

The EPA also retained many provisions and modified others. One important provision retained with modifications was the requirement a facility must hold a public meeting within 90 days of an accident. This provision was modified to require a public meeting after an incident that has off-site impacts, as contrasted with accidents having only on-site impacts.

As expected, following the issuing of the RMP Reconsideration Rule, environmental groups and trade union organizations filed a petition for review in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Although the petition does not set forth the grounds for the challenge, they are likely to address the adequacy of the EPA’s legal justifications for reversing the course set by the Obama administration. For now, the Trump administration’s revisions are in effect.

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