Amendments to the agency’s Risk Management Program (RMP), which includes large ammonia facilities, will now go into effect.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia on Friday vacated the 20-month delay of the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated rule on the safety of chemical plants, including those using ammonia.
The court vacated the EPA’s Delay Rule of June 14, 2017, which postponed the effective date of an update to its longstanding Risk Management Program (RMP)) until February 19, 2019. The updated RMP rule now goes immediately into effect.
The court described the rule’s delay as “arbitrary and capricious,” adding that it “makes a mockery of the statute.”
“Today’s court decision is a victory for communities around the United States who have worked for years to win stronger protections from chemical disasters,said Earthjustice attorney Gordon Sommers, in a statement. Earthjustice represented the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Integrity Project, and Sierra Club, among other groups, in the case.
The amended RMP rule (called the Chemical Disaster Rule of January 13, 2017) was developed during the Obama administration. It is an extension of the RMP, which regulates the safety of dangerous chemicals in industrial plants, including those with more than 10,000 lbs of ammonia. The new rule came about in response to a deadly ammonia fertilizer explosion at a plant in West, Texas, in 2013.
The suit against the delay was brought by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who led a coalition of 11 state Attorneys General. Including those of New York, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
“Today’s court decision is a victory for communities around the United States who have worked for years to win stronger protections from chemical disasters."
– Gordon Sommers, Earthjustice
The updated RMP rule covers three broad areas: ensuring that local responders and community residents are prepared for an accident; preventing catastrophic accidents; and third-party audits.
In the industrial refrigeration industry, the most controversial part of the new rule involves third party audits. The rule requires industrial refrigeration operators to get an independent third party – rather than use its own internal resources – to conduct a compliance audit within a year following a reportable accident.
The delay was intended to “give EPA time to reconsider the rule and to consider other issues that may benefit from additional comment,” said Lowell Randel, vice-president, government and legal affairs, Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), which supported the delay.
In May 2018, former EPA administrator E. Scott Pruitt submitted a proposed rule that would eliminate several provisions of the RMP Amendments rule. In particular, the EPA proposed to “rescind amendments relating to safer technology and alternatives analyses, third-party audits, incident investigations, information availability, and several other minor regulatory changes,” said the EPA.