As the EPA commits itself to environmental justice, the agency has taken its regulations under review. The EPA is proposing stronger regulations to the Risk Management Plan (RMP) program to protect environmental justice communities and against climate change Risk Management Program (RMP).
The Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule implements Section 112(r) of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and applies to facilities that use extremely hazardous substances. The RMP Rule protects public health and the environment by requiring industrial facilities that use extremely hazardous substances to develop a Risk Management Plan.
An RMP plan should identify the potential effects of a chemical accident, identify steps the facility is taking to prevent an accident, and identify emergency response procedures if an accident occurs.
These facilities are often located in communities that have historically borne a disproportionate burden from pollution, which makes RMP an area of focus as the EPA implements environmental justice reforms.
Why is the EPA proposing revisions?
The EPA’s Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention (SCCAP) rule is proposing revisions to further protect vulnerable communities from chemical accidents by addressing the impacts of climate change and the potential impacts on environmental justice communities. These revisions intend to reduce the frequency of accidental chemical releases and their adverse effects. Changes made to the RMP rule were identified after review of existing regulations following President Biden’s “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis” executive order.
The final rule is planned for August 2023.
Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
Historically underserved and overburdened populations disproportionately live within close proximity to RMP facilities compared with other populations. This includes people of color making up 50% of those living within 1-mile of RMP facilities, while 42% are identified as low-income. Communities living near RMP facilities are most at risk of exposure in the event of an accidental chemical release. The Proposed Rule requires “siting evaluations” that would address hazards resulting from the location of industrial processes, equipment, buildings, and proximate facilities, and their effects on the surrounding community.
Climate change is expected to increase the occurrence of natural hazards, which present concern for RMP facilities. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that over 30% of RMP facilities are located in areas that may be impacted by flooding, storm surge, wildfire, or sea level rise.
The Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention (SCCAP)
The proposed amendments would further protect vulnerable communities from chemical accidents, especially those living near facilities with high accident rates.
The SCCAP rule promotes environmental justice through the increased availability of information for fence line communities in their requested language. Information is required to be made public and accessible so that those in the immediate area of the facility are aware of potential hazards at the facility and what the facility is doing to address those hazards. During public listening sessions, communities said they first learned of accidental chemical releases impacting their homes through TV or social media following the release.
The updated RMP rule would require RMP facilities to provide their chemical hazard information, names of regulated substances, accident history, and emergency response information to communities within a 6-mile radius of the facility.
The RMP Prevention Program focuses on the understanding of safety-related aspects of equipment and processes. Changes to the RMP rule include an update to the following prevention program sections of the regulation:
- Employee participation will be required in resolving process hazard analyses, compliance audit and incident investigation recommendations and findings
- Program 3 employee participation plans will be required to outline stop work procedures
- Program 2 and 3 employee participation plans will be required to include opportunities for employees to anonymously report RMP-reportable accident or other RMP non-compliance issues
- Certain facilities and processes will be required to perform a Safety Technologies and Alternatives Analysis (STAA) and practicability assessment of safer technologies and designs
- Natural hazards (including those resulting from climate change) and power loss must be addressed in Program 2 hazard reviews and Program 3 process hazard analyses
- A formal root cause analysis incident investigation will be required when facilities have had an RMP-reportable accident
- Next scheduled compliance audit will be required to be a third-party audit under certain conditions
Emergency Response applies to Program 2 or 3 processes, ensuring that emergency response actions are coordinated with local agencies and comply with the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause.
The emergency response sections of the regulation will be updated as follows:
- Non-responding RMP facilities will be required to develop procedures for informing the public about accidental releases
- Release notification data will be required to be provided to local responders
- Community notification system will need to be established for notification of RMP-reportable accidents
- Emergency response field exercises will be required every 10 years, with mandatory scope and reporting requirements
As environmental policy continues to enhance its focus on climate change and environmental justice, greater efforts at risk prevention and transparent communication continue to be important elements.