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 a fifth in a planned series that will address 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.

The changes to the emergency response section of the rule begin with adding a definition for “responding stationary sources” and for “non-responding stationary source.” The primary effect of this addition is that responding stationary sources must comply with 40 CFR 68.95 (i.e., develop an emergency response plan and all that goes with it) and non-responding stationary sources must be included and rely on the community emergency response plan and/or coordinate response actions with the local fire department. The final rule dropped the requirement that non-responding facilities confirm the adequacy of local public emergency response capabilities as a condition of being designated a non-responding stationary source. In addition, the EPA decided not to finalize provisions that would allow a Local Emergency Response Committee (“LEPC”) to require a facility “to develop an emergency response program in accordance with §68.95 upon receiving a written request to do so.” By declining to add that proposal, the decision to designate the response status remains with the facility.

New coordination requirements were added in §68.93 that require that the owner or operator attempt to coordinate with local responders at least annually (local responders are not required to coordinate). In addition, the owner or operator shall provide local authorities with information:

  • about the regulated substances at the source (quantities, risks, and emergency response resources and capabilities), and
  • emergency response plans, emergency action plans required under 29 CFR 1910.38, updated emergency contact information, and any other relevant information. “Such information could include accident histories, portions of incident investigation reports relevant to emergency response, incident after action reports, records of notification exercises, field and tabletop exercise evaluation reports, etc.”

Finally, the new rule added “Facility Exercises” requirements. All Program 2 and 3 sources must “conduct an exercise of the stationary source’s emergency response notification mechanisms.” §68.96(a). Responding stationary sources must conduct emergency response field and tabletop exercises. The frequency of these exercises shall be established in consultation with emergency response officials with the interval being no more than 3 years between tabletop and 10 years between field exercises. The EPA decided not to include a requirement that a facility conduct a field exercise within one year of a §68.42 release. Flexibility was incorporated into the rule to allow the owner or operator to take credit for an equivalent exercise performed to satisfy other regulatory requirements (§68.96(c)(1)) or responding to a real accidental release (§68.96(c)(2)) as long as the exercise requirements are otherwise met.

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.