Five industry trade groups have co-signed a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) objecting to certain provisions of the agency’s proposal to update its Risk Management Program (RMP), which regulates ammonia refrigeration, among other industries using hazardous chemicals.
The trade groups are
: the American Frozen Food Institute, the Global Cold Chain Alliance, the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR), the North American Meat Institute, and the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association. The letter was submitted to the EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, on October 31, the deadline for public comments on the proposed RMP rulemaking.
“IIAR does not agree with many aspects of the rule and believes that the current rules are generally sufficient for our industry,” the trade group said in an email to its members on November 23 that publicly unveiled the EPA letter.
In the letter, the trade groups point out that the EPA is currently enacting rules to phase down the use of HFC refrigerants pursuant to the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, adding their concern that the proposed RMP rule “could dissuade some companies from moving away from HFCs and moving to natural refrigerants like ammonia.”
The EPA announced the proposed RMP rule – called the “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule” – on August 19 “to further protect vulnerable communities from chemical accidents, especially those living near facilities with high accident rates.” The proposed rule, the EPA added, “would strengthen the existing program and includes new safeguards that have not been addressed in prior RMP rules, such as enhanced employee participation and transparency for communities on safety decisions.”
Highlights of the proposed rule include:
- Providing greater protections for communities living near RMP facilities, many of which are underserved and overburdened by pollution.
- Emphasizing the requirement for regulated facilities to evaluate risks of natural hazards and climate change, including any associated loss of power.
- Promoting environmental justice through increased availability of information for fenceline communities in their requested language.
- Requiring safer technologies and analysis of alternatives for certain facilities with high accident rates.
- Advancing greater employee participation and opportunity for decision-making in facility accident–
- Requiring third party audits for facilities with a bad track record of accidents.
- Enhancing facility planning and preparedness efforts.
The proposed rule comes in the wake of the recent checkered history of the RMP, which the EPA introduced in 1996. In January 2017, the “RMP Amendments Final Rule” issued new requirements for prevention, response
, and public disclosure of information, but key provisions were paused, and most never went into effect. Instead, in 2019, the “RMP Reconsideration Final Rule” rescinded or modified some of the measures in the 2017 rule. The 2019 RMP rule was part of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back industry regulations.
In their letter, the trade groups indicate their concern about “the seemingly perpetual rulemaking related to the Risk Management Program.”
Third-party audit concerns
As they have in the past, the ammonia refrigeration trade groups objected strenuously in their letter to the proposed RMP rules regarding the need for third-party audits to be conducted by independent organizations.
“The proposal to restrict which auditors could be used after an accident is concerning,” says the trade group letter, adding, “The use of any qualified auditor should be at the discretion of the facility, including those who may be associated with the company, for such audits.”
Auditor qualifications, the letter adds, “are much more important than ‘independence’ in meeting the agency’s goal of more effective audits.”
Other concerns mentioned by the trade groups include:
- Whether additional emphasis on natural hazards is necessary.
- The rule should recognize that having standby power for an ammonia refrigeration system is not necessary because the loss of power should not lead to a refrigerant release, only a loss of refrigeration.
- Publicly posting details on findings and recommendations to a mostly uneducated public is “concerning and unsettling.”
- Root cause analysis in incident investigations is already included in the IIAR guidelines for industry. Additional regulatory language in this area “seems unnecessary.”
- More specificity is needed in the level of event that would trigger requirements to respond in writing within 30 days.
- A public request for chemical hazard i
Information “presents a security risk and conflicts with Department of Homeland Security requirements.”