On September 12, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent for pre-publication review to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a final draft rule aimed at repealing regulatory changes to the Risk Management Program (RMP). The RMP regulations establish a performance-based standard for process safety applicable to facilities that utilize or manufacture a threshold quantity of highly hazardous chemicals, historically mirroring the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The EPA had previously set internal deadlines for the agency to complete the rule – first in January 2019, and then in August, when its initial deadline passed. Having missed both deadlines, the agency then established a plan to finalize the rule by the end of 2019. Review by the OMB can take up to 90 days. Steven Cook, deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, indicated at an environmental conference in August 2019 that the agency was working to review a significant number of public comments on the proposed rollback rule, and that the EPA planned to proceed in a manner that was “staying inside the bounds of what the statute, the regulations have in place.”

The proposed rollback rule seeks to repeal the most significant changes to the program issued during the Obama Administration, which generally require facilities to consider inherently safer processes, utilize third-party auditors, and increase disclosures to local emergency planners. After President Trump took office in 2017, the EPA attempted to promulgate a rule delaying implementation of the RMP changes, but this rulemaking was vacated by a federal appellate court in 2018.

In contrast to the EPA’s rollback of its RMP regulations, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) recently took steps toward promulgating an accidental release reporting rule. In August 2019, the agency dropped its appeal of a federal district court’s order to issue a final rule requiring accidental release reporting from chemical facilities by February 2020, signaling that it would move forward with development of the rule. The CSB anticipates releasing a proposed rule this month.