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By Lee Vail, P.E., Ph.D.

On March 14, 2016, Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) proposed changes to the Risk Management Plan Program (“RMP”) Rule . On January 13, 2017, the EPA published a new final rule.  This is the final article in a series that addresses five major changes: root cause analysis for near misses, third-party audits, inherently safer technology, emergency response, and availability of information. The subject of this discussion is the changes to the emergency response preparedness requirements.

In proposing extensive additions to §68.210, the EPA concluded that Local Emergency Response Committees (“LEPC”) and the public needed additional information about covered facilities and that rule should mandate automatic submission and posting of such information. Instead, the revised rule facilitates the transmission of information to those that request it.

During the comment period, LEPC’s insisted that they neither had the capacity to accept the mandated submission of information nor ever had difficulty acquiring the information they needed. As a result, as part of the emergency response coordination  revisions, LEPCs may request any relevant information. The discussion of relevant information in this section of the preamble pretty well follows the list given in the discussion of the emergency response section:

The LPEC or local emergency response officials may request such as accident histories, portions of incident investigation reports relevant to emergency response planning, incident investigation reports, records of notification exercises, field and tabletop exercise evaluation reports, or other information relevant to community emergency planning.

The EPA then adds:

For example, this may include requesting information on changes made to the facility that affect risk such as incorporating safer alternatives.

82 Fed. Reg. at 4667.

Similarly, rather than requiring that a faculty distribute specific chemical hazard information to the public, owners and operators must notify the public of the availability of such information. See 40 C.F.R. 68.210(c). Among the advantages touted for this approach was that the facilities would be informed about who requested the information (at least the initial recipient). The information available through such requests is limited to “only information that could improve community awareness of risk.” 82 Fed. Reg. at 4669. EPA explicitly rejected comments that Safer Technology and Alteration Analysis (“STAA”), incident investigations, and third party audit reports should also be available to the public.

The revised rule requires that facilities must hold a public meeting follow an incident that meets the accident reporting criteria found in §68.42 (five year update criteria). Information communicated during the public meeting includes the same information included in the five year accident history (e.g., on and offsite impacts, root cause, etc.), as well as the information listed in §68.210(b) that is already available upon request. This public meeting must occur within 90 days of such an incident.

Finally, the EPA also added a requirement that RMPs shall be available to the public consistent with 40 CFR Part 1400. This appears to be little more than a cross reference to notify the public that RMPs are available in federal reading rooms.

On January 26, 2017, the EPA delayed the effective date of several regulations, including these changes to the RMP rule. Whereas this rule is now expected to go in effect on March 21, 2017, this rule is subject to Congressional Review Act and could be undone by that process.

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