louisiana

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

At the very end of 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated two Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) citations for alleged violations of Process Safety Management (“PSM”) regulations. In that case, the Court held that OSHA was barred from issuing a citation for the failure to act on Process Hazard Analysis (“PHA”) findings/recommendations that remained open beyond the six month statute of limitations provided in 29 U.S.C.A. §658(c) of the Occupational Safety Health Act of 1970. See, Delek Ref., Ltd. v. Occupational Safety & Health Review Comm’n, 845 F.3d 170, 179 (5th Cir. 2016).

Conversely, violations of the Clean Air Act are recognized to be subject to the general federal five-year statute of limitations established by 28 U.S.C. § 2462. See Nat’l Parks & Conservation Ass’n, Inc. v. Tennessee Valley Auth., 502 F.3d 1316, 1322 (11th Cir. 2007). Consistent with this, the “duration of violation” factor under the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) “Combined Enforcement Policy for Clean Air Act Sections 112(r)(1), 112(r)(7) and 40 C.F.R. Part 68 ” reaches its maximum at 60 months. At first glance, it would appear that the Delek decision might have little or no impact on RMP penalties, but that would be incorrect.

Some RMP violations are not continuing violation.

In considering PHA recommendations, the Fifth Circuit concluded:

Just as a single violation “occurr[ed]” in Volks when the company failed to create the records within the prescribed time-period, so too a violation of subsections (e)(5) and (o)(4) “occur[s]” within the meaning of Section 658(c) when an employer does not “promptly” or “timely” do as Section 1910.119 directs.

Id. at 176–77.

RMP has the exact same requirements, albeit at 40 C.F.R. 68.67(e) and 40 C.F.R. 68.79(d). Aligning RMP with PSM based on Delek, no duration of violation factor should apply to violations of §68.67(e) or §68.79(d). Further, this ruling could apply to other RMP provisions that only require compliance by a particular date. For example, this case strengthens the argument that the failure to conduct a specific Management of Change (“MOC”) is a one day violation and not subject to “duration of violation” factor. Delek could similarly affect other RMP requirements.

Prior PHA’s might not be a basis of violation.

Consider the following example. A facility conducts a PHA in 2010, and a second five years later in 2015. Also assume that a recommendation from the 2010 PHA remains open seven years later in 2017. Any single violation based on the 2010 PHA is time barred five years after the facility failed to act promptly or timely. If for argument sake, prompt and timely is considered two years, the five year statute of limitation bars enforcement of the omission by 2017. Further, the EPA might have issues with citing a violation of the open issue based on the 2015 PHA as it may not yet be past the prompt or timely criteria.

Time will tell to what degree Delek will impact the existing RMP penalty policy. Regardless, it could have an impact.