Earlier this month, the EPA formally proposed a long-awaited rule on chemical plant safety in response to an executive order issued in 2013 by President Obama, which called on several agencies, including the EPA to modernize their chemical plant safety rules. The new proposed rule triggered a 60-day public comment period, and with it, a public hearing in Washington, D.C., where Legislative Director Jerry Slominski gave the following statement for U.S. PIRG:
Good morning. My name is Jerry Slominski and I am the Legislative Director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group. I’d like to thank the EPA for holding this hearing, and everyone participating for being here today.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule, the “Modernization of the Accidental Release Prevention Regulations under Clean Air Act,” makes some positive changes, but is a missed opportunity to take steps that will truly prevent chemical disasters from devastating our communities.
Chemical plants put communities across the country in danger every day. Nationwide, there are over 100 million people who live in the danger zones around chemical plants and refineries. The EPA acknowledges that, “in the last 10 years more than 1,500 accidents were reported by [Risk Management Plan] facilities. These accidents are responsible for causing nearly 60 deaths, some 17,000 people being injured or seeking medical treatment, almost 500,000 people being evacuated or sheltered-in-place, and costing more than $2 billion in property damages.” And an evaluation by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical disasters found that since the April 13, 2013 disaster in West, Texas there have been more than 430 chemical incidents resulting in 82 deaths.
President Obama recognizes the seriousness of this problem, and has been a leader on this issue since his time in the Senate. In his 2008 book, Change We Can Believe In, he wrote that we must, “[s]ecure our chemical plants by setting a clear set of federal regulations that all plants must follow, including improving barriers, containment, mitigation and safety training, and wherever possible, using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals." (Emphasis added.) When he issued Executive Order #13650 after the West, Texas disaster, it was a resounding call for safety improvements.
The proposed rule that followed from the Executive Order, however, focuses more on response measures than prevention. Emergency response to chemical disasters is undoubtedly crucial. Without it, lives would be lost, people would be injured, and property would be damaged. However, there is no good reason we should have to use our emergency response capabilities 430 times in 3 years—especially when there are often safer chemicals and technology that could prevent an incident. This rule misses a critical opportunity to require chemical plants to switch to safer chemicals and technology, where they are available and affordable. If that were a requirement, we wouldn’t need to put our communities and first-responders in harm’s way so frighteningly often.
There are three areas where the rule can immediately be improved, and we respectfully ask you to make these changes to make our communities safer and fulfill President Obama’s vision. First, and most importantly, the rule should require all RMP facilities to switch to inherently safer chemicals and technology where available and affordable. Second, the rule requires a subset of facilities to conduct a safer alternatives analysis—this should apply to all RMP facilities. Third, all facilities’ safer alternatives analyses should be made available to the EPA and the public, so our decisionmakers and communities know how facilities in their midst can be made safer.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.