Urge Your Member of Congress: Stand Up for First Responders and Public Safety Vote NO on House Joint Resolution 59

After the West Texas Fertilizer Explosion in 2013 that killed 15 people, including first responders, the Obama Administration focused on chemical policies. President Obama signed Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, to reduce risks associated with hazardous chemical incidents by enhancing the safety and security of chemical facilities; the EO also created an interagency working group including the Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Obama Administration spent more than three years conducting listening sessions and getting stakeholder input to strike the right balance while updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Program (RMP).  RMP covers 12,500 commercial and industrial facilities that use or store large amounts of toxic chemicals. The final rule was issued January 13, 2017. The amendments were modest, but important steps for preventing chemical disasters.

However, with the election of a new President, we can expect changes in chemical policies. The ink is barely dry in the federal register and today House Joint Resolution 59 has been introduced by Representative Markwayne Mullin (R –OK-2) to disapprove the RMP regulation using authority under the Congressional Review Act.

A key element of the RMP amendments would require facilities in sectors with the worst accident records to conduct an inherently safer technology (IST) review to see if they could reduce or remove hazards by switching to safer alternatives or processes. Here in New Jersey, facilities covered by the Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act (TCPA) program already conduct an IST review.  Under neither the TCPA Program nor the EPA amendments are facilities required to switch to a safer alternative.

When IST is implemented you reduce or eliminate the risk of a chemical disaster. For example, in New Jersey nearly 300 water and wastewater treatment plants that formerly used highly dangerous chlorine have switched to safer processing methods using UV radiation, ozone, or sodium hypochlorite for disinfection.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) today issued a press statement commending the action by Representative Mullin, stating, “…ACC is particularly concerned with EPA’s new regulatory requirements to expand the sharing of chemical hazard and operational information, which would allow sensitive information to fall into the wrong hands and endanger chemical facilities and communities across America.”

This is a distraction from the larger issue. In order to eliminate the threat, we must eliminate the danger when feasible. The first step is to conduct a safer alternatives analysis. That was a key point of contention with industry in the RMP amendments.

According to the EPA, “in the past 10 years nearly 60 people died, some 17,000 people were injured or sought medical treatment, and almost 500,000 people were evacuated or sheltered-in- place as a result of accidental releases at chemical plants. During that time, more than 1,500 incidents were reported causing over $2 billion in property damages.” Since the April 17, 2013 West, Texas disaster there have been more than 430 incidents and 82 deaths.

If Congress and industry have their way, the amendments will be rejected and insufficient chemical security rules will remain status quo. But don’t communities and workers deserve to know that facilities are operating as safely as possible? Shouldn’t conducting a safer alternatives analysis to ensure public safety be considered part of the cost of doing business?

For more information on the RMP amendments, see the factsheet developed by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters.

Urge Your Representative to stand up for first responders and communities, and vote NO on House Joint Resolution 59.