Thursday, August 01, 2013

Executive Order On Safety & Security Of Chemical Facilities

Aug 1: President Obama signed an Executive Order to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities and reduce the risks of hazardous chemicals to workers and communities. Chemicals and the facilities that manufacture, store, distribute and use them are essential to our economy.  However, incidents such as the devastating explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas in April are tragic reminders that the handling and storage of chemicals present serious risks that must be addressed.  While the cause of the Texas explosion is under investigation, we can take some common sense steps now to improve safety and security and build on Federal agencies' ongoing work to reduce the risks associated with hazardous chemicals. 
    According to a White House fact sheet, the Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security directs the Federal Government to: improve operational coordination with state and local partners; enhance Federal agency coordination and information sharing; modernize policies, regulations and standards; and work with stakeholders to identify best practices. 

Improving Operational Coordination with State and Local Partners: Federal, state, local, and tribal governments have different responsibilities in addressing risks associated with chemical facilities, including response planning for potential emergencies.  To improve the effectiveness and efficiency of risk management and response measures, the Executive Order charges Federal agencies with improving coordination and information sharing with state and local governments.  For example, the Executive Order requires Federal agencies to develop a plan within 90 days that identifies ways to ensure State homeland security advisors, State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs), Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs), State regulators, and first responders have ready access to key information in a useful format to prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical incidents.

Enhancing Federal Coordination and Information Sharing: Programs designed to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities through regulations, information reporting requirements, site inspections, and voluntary partnerships are managed by multiple Federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).  To improve the collective performance of these Federal programs, the Executive Order calls upon Federal agencies to initiate innovative approaches for working together on a broad range of activities, such as identification of high-risk facilities, inspections, enforcement, and incident investigation and follow up.  For example, the Executive Order requires that the Federal agencies deploy a regional pilot program that will validate best practices and test innovative new methods for Federal interagency collaboration on chemical facility safety and security.  Additionally, Federal agencies are specifically directed to modernize the collection and sharing of chemical facility information to maximize the effectiveness of risk reduction efforts and reduce duplicative efforts.

Modernizing Policies, Regulations and Standards: The Executive Order directs Federal agencies to work with stakeholders to improve chemical safety and security through agency programs, private sector initiatives, Federal guidance, standards, and regulations.  For example, to reduce risks associated with ammonium nitrate, agencies will examine new options to address the safe and secure storage, handling, and sale of this explosive chemical.  Agencies will also determine if additional chemicals should be covered by existing Federal regulatory programs, such as EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP), DHS's Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATs), and DOL's Process Safety Management Standards (PSM).  In addition, agencies will consider whether to pursue an independent, high-level assessment of the U.S. approach to chemical facility risk management to identify additional recommendations for all levels of government and industry to reduce the risk of catastrophic chemical incidents in the future.

Working with Stakeholders to Identify Best Practices: Many chemical facilities have taken steps to create safer work environments and reduce risks of chemical incidents to nearby communities. The Executive Order directs key Federal agencies to convene a wide range of interested stakeholders, including representatives from industry, state, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and the first responder community, to identify and share successes to date and best practices to reduce safety and security risks in the production and storage of potentially harmful chemicals, including through the use of safer alternatives, adoption of best practices, and potential public-private partnerships.

    The fact sheet also includes a background summary of the various Federal Programs for Chemical Facility Safety and Security including: EPA's Risk Management Program (RMP; EPA's Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA; OSHA's Process Safety Management (PSM); OSHA's Chemical Plant National Emphasis Program (NEP); Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS); U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA); and the Department of Justice/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (DOJ/ATF) federal explosives laws. The Federal government also has a number of regulatory programs related to the safe and secure transportation of chemicals across all modes of transportation, including highway, rail, aviation, maritime, and pipeline. This fact sheet and Executive Order is focused on chemical safety and security at fixed facilities and does not address the programs focused on the transportation of hazardous materials.

    Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) responded saying, "Knowing the President's deep commitment to the people of West, Texas after the tragic explosion of ammonium nitrate, I informed him last week of specific ideas that emanated from a hearing I chaired at the Environment and Public Works Committee. I couldn't be more gratified to learn today that he is taking executive action to follow through on the very solutions that were discussed and that I promised to pursue. As I told the President, the EPA has not updated its alert since 1997, and the best practices recommended by other federal agencies such as OSHA are not being uniformly followed. This progress shows that when we use our mandated oversight role to solve serious problems facing the American people -- and the President agrees with our solutions -- we can move forward without changing laws to protect our families and communities."

    Access the White House fact sheet (click here). Access the Executive Order (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Boxer (click here). [#Haz, #Toxics]