The agencies regulating industrial chemical processes are taking a second look at modernizing regulations aimed at preventing chemical accidents in the near future. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) standard and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program (RMP) rule were practically identical for processes containing threshold levels of certain chemicals since their inception up until 2017. In that time frame, both agencies were considering rule revisions, but EPA moved slightly faster and was able to promulgate a final revised RMP rule with several new requirements that companies were to implement. However, shortly thereafter in 2019, Trump administration appointees issued an RMP Reconsideration final rule modifying or removing the new requirements, which were viewed as burdensome, costly, and unnecessary by the administration and many in industry.
Recently, EPA and OSHA have indicated renewed intent to revisit the regulations, with EPA again taking the lead. EPA has already hosted two listening sessions and plans to issue a draft revised RMP rule by September of this year, followed by a final rule in August 2023. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) began formal interagency review of the Biden administration’s draft RMP rule in late April. OSHA’s plans are not as concrete, but an initial stakeholder meeting was held in early 2022.
Although what changes will be proposed remains unknown at this time, given the current administration’s focus on environmental justice (EJ) and environmental social governance (ESG) concerns, the agencies are likely to revive some of the previously rejected changes, particularly those that focus on public disclosures, information availability, and oversight. Carlton Waterhouse, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Land and Emergency Management at EPA, stated in 2021 that EPA plans to require industry to provide the “maximum protection possible” and will make EJ a key focus of the upcoming revised rule. Additionally, a group of 31 House and Senate Democrats recommended that EPA consider climate change impacts in the rule, arguing that hazards such as more frequent extreme weather will act as a “threat multiplier” for chemical releases and other disasters the rule is meant to prevent or mitigate.
Specifically, some of the EPA RMP revisions that may be reimplemented include:
- Third-party compliance audits required after an RMP reportable accident or at agency request;
- Broadly defined “chemical hazard information” required to be made available to the public within 45 days upon request;
- Public notice of information availability, such as on a company website;
- Increased information sharing with local emergency planning committee (“LEPC”); and
- Public meetings required within 90 days of an accident for those with both onsite and offsite impacts (this is currently required only for offsite impacts).
Of course, there may be other requirements imposed that were not contemplated in the last round of revisions that are even broader and require more transparency into company information in support of EJ and ESG initiatives. We will be monitoring the progression of both regulations and will provide updates as more information is released.