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EPA Proposes Delaying Risk Management Program Rule Changes Until 2019

Less than three weeks after agreeing to stay a rule designed to help prevent accidents and explosions at refineries and other industrial facilities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed delaying the rule again -- this time until February 2019.

Last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to delay final amendments to its Risk Management Program (RMP) rule, which was to take effect on June 19.

“We want to prevent regulation created for the sake of regulation by the previous administration," Pruitt said Friday. "Any expansion of the RMP program should make chemical facilities safer, without compromising our national security. And, any new RMP requirements should be developed in accordance with the explicit mandate granted to EPA by Congress."

The EPA said the delay would give it more time "to evaluate the objections raised by multiple petitioners and consider other issues that may benefit from additional public comment. [We] will also use this time to ensure that all provisions in the RMP amendments are in accordance with the explicit mandate granted to EPA by Congress in the Clean Air Act [CAA] amendments of 1990."

If finalized, the EPA said the effective date of amendments -- specifically, to the Accidental Release Prevention Requirements for Risk Management Programs under the Section 112(r)(7) of the CAA -- won’t come until Feb. 19, 2019. The agency will hold a public hearing over the proposed delay on April 19, and will accept written comments on the matter until May 19.

Last month Pruitt, acting on a request from several trade associations, including the oil and gas industry, agreed to a three-month stay for the RMP amendments to take effect.

Both delays came after the EPA received a petition from several trade associations -- collectively calling themselves the RMP Coalition -- at the end of February. The petition urged the agency to stay the RMP rule. The American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers were among the petition's signatories.

Among the issues raised by the RMP coalition, the petitioners said the RMP rule "raises significant security concerns and compliance issues that will cause irreparable harm to the Coalition members. The final rule, for example, compels facilities to make available sensitive information about covered processes that could expose vulnerabilities to terrorists and others who may target refineries, chemical plants and other facilities."

The RMP rule emerged in response to an executive order issued by President Obama following several industrial accidents, including an ammonium nitrate explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, TX, in April 2013.

The EPA has said the amendments were intended to "address and improve accident prevention program elements [and] enhance emergency preparedness requirements." They were also designed to make sure first responders and the public had access to information explaining the risks at RMP facilities, which would help the former "better prepare for emergencies."

On March 2, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who chairs the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works (EPW), introduced a bill designed to invoke the Congressional Review Act and block the RMP rule. The bill, SJ Res. 28, is still before the EPW Committee. A companion bill in the House, HJ Res. 59, was introduced on Feb. 1 by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and referred to the House Subcommittee on the Environment.

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