Barack Obama’s order to improve chemical facility safety and security welcomed by CSB

Published:  05 August, 2013

Executive order should result in action and assist community members and emergency responders in helping to prevent and respond to chemical incidents.

Released on August 1st, the Executive Order - Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security calls for a number of actions.

Firstly, it calls for additional measures to be taken by executive departments and agencies with regulatory authority to further improve chemical facility safety and security in coordination with owners and operators, via the establishment of the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group.

Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group – who is in it?

Co-chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Secretary of Labor or their designated representatives at the Assistant Secretary level or higher, the Working Group will consist of the head of each of the following agencies or their designated representatives at the Assistant Secretary level or higher:

(i) the Department of Justice;

(ii) the Department of Agriculture; and

(iii) the Department of Transportation.

The Working Group will also consult with representatives from:

(i) the Council on Environmental Quality;

(ii) the National Security Staff;

(iii) the Domestic Policy Council;

(iv) the Office of Science and Technology Policy;

(v) the Office of Management and Budget (OMB);

(vi) the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs; and

(vii) such other agencies and offices as the President may designate.

The Working Group is also encouraged to invite other affected agencies, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to attend their regular meetings as appropriate.

Big remit – to improve operational coordination with state, local, and tribal partners

The Working Group will develop a plan to support and further enable efforts by all stake holders to improve chemical facility safety and security. In developing this plan, the Working Group will:

(i) identify ways to improve coordination among the Federal Government, first responders, and State, local, and tribal entities;

(ii) take into account the capabilities, limitations, and needs of the first responder community;

(iii) identify ways to ensure that 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 useable format, including by thoroughly reviewing categories of chemicals for which information is provided to first responders and the manner in which it is made available, so as to prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical incidents;

(iv) identify areas, in collaboration with stake holders, where joint collaborative programs can be developed or enhanced, including by better integrating existing authorities, jurisdictional responsibilities, and regulatory programs in order to achieve a more comprehensive engagement on chemical risk management;

(v) identify opportunities and mechanisms to improve response procedures and to enhance information sharing and collaborative planning between chemical facility owners and operators, TEPCs, LEPCs, and first responders;

(vi) working with the National Response Team (NRT) and Regional Response Teams (RRTs), identify means for Federal technical assistance to support developing, implementing, exercising, and revising State, local, and tribal emergency contingency plans, including improved training; and

(vii) examine opportunities to improve public access to information about chemical facility risks consistent with national security needs and appropriate protection of confidential business information.

Enhanced federal coordination

In order to enhance federal coordination regarding chemical facility safety and security:

(a) the Working Group willl deploy a pilot program, involving the EPA, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and any other appropriate agency, to validate best practices and to test innovative methods for Federal interagency collaboration regarding chemical facility safety and security. The pilot program shall operate in at least one region and shall integrate regional Federal, State, local, and tribal assets, where appropriate. The pilot program shall include innovative and effective methods of collecting, storing, and using facility information, stakeholder outreach, inspection planning, and, as appropriate, joint inspection efforts. The Working Group shall take into account the results of the pilot program in developing integrated standard operating procedures.

(b) the Working Group will create comprehensive and integrated standard operating procedures for a unified Federal approach for identifying and responding to risks in chemical facilities (including during pre-inspection, inspection execution, post-inspection, and post-accident investigation activities), incident reporting and response procedures, enforcement, and collection, storage, and use of facility information. This effort shall reflect best practices and shall include agency-to-agency referrals and joint inspection procedures where possible and appropriate, as well as consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on post-accident response activities.

(c) the Working Group shall consult with the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and determine what, if any, changes are required to existing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and processes between EPA and CSB, ATF and CSB, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and CSB for timely and full disclosure of information. To the extent appropriate, the Working Group may develop a single model MOU with CSB in lieu of existing agreements.

Enhanced information collection and sharing

The Working Group is to develop an analysis, including recommendations, on the potential to improve information collection by and sharing between agencies to help identify chemical facilities which may not have provided all required information or may be non-compliant with Federal requirements to ensure chemical facility safety. This analysis should consider ongoing data-sharing efforts, other federally collected information, and chemical facility reporting among agencies (including information shared with State, local, and tribal governments).

It will also produce a proposal for a coordinated, flexible data-sharing process which can be utilized to track data submitted to agencies for federally regulated chemical facilities, including locations, chemicals, regulated entities, previous infractions, and other relevant information. The proposal shall allow for the sharing of information with and by State, local, and tribal entities where possible, and address computer-based and non-computer-based means for improving the process in the short-term, if they exist.

The Working Group will identify and recommend possible changes to streamline and otherwise improve data collection to meet the needs of the public and Federal, State, local, and tribal agencies (including those charged with protecting workers and the public), consistent with the Paperwork Reduction Act and other relevant authorities, including opportunities to lessen the reporting burden on regulated industries.

Policy, regulation, and standards modernization

The Working Group will:

(i) develop options for improved chemical facility safety and security that identifies improvements to existing risk management practices through agency programs,

(ii) engage key stakeholders to discuss the options and other means to improve chemical risk management that may be available; and

(iii) develop a plan for implementing practical and effective improvements to chemical risk management identified

The Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Agriculture will develop a list of potential regulatory and legislative proposals to improve the safe and secure storage, handling, and sale of ammonium nitrate and identify ways in which ammonium nitrate safety and security can be enhanced under existing authorities.

The Administrator of EPA and the Secretary of Labor shall review the chemical hazards covered by the Risk Management Program (RMP) and the Process Safety Management Standard (PSM) and determine if the RMP or PSM can and should be expanded to address additional regulated substances and types of hazards. In addition, the EPA and the Department of Labor shall develop a plan, including a timeline and resource requirements, to expand, implement, and enforce the RMP and PSM in a manner that addresses the additional regulated substances and types of hazards.

Identification of best practices

The Working Group shall convene stakeholders, including chemical producers, chemical storage companies, agricultural supply companies, State and local regulators, chemical critical infrastructure owners and operators, first responders, labor organizations representing affected workers, environmental and community groups, and consensus standards organizations, in order to identify and share successes to date and best practices to reduce safety risks 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.

View from the US Chemical Safety Board

Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso commented on the Executive Order:

‘I applaud the issuance of the Executive Order entitled, “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security.”  Increased coordination, communication, and data collection amongst federal, state, tribal, and local agencies should result in action and assist community members and emergency responders in helping to prevent and respond to chemical incidents.

‘Incidents the CSB has been investigating, such as the recent tragic explosion and fire in West, Texas, have revealed serious gaps in the prevention of accidents and in response preparations for major chemical releases by companies and government authorities, leaving Americans vulnerable.

‘The West accident showed a particularly glaring need for comprehensive regulation of reactive chemical hazards and in particular ammonium nitrate.  The destruction I personally saw there – the obliteration of homes, schools, and businesses by an ammonium nitrate explosion – was almost beyond imagination.  The loss of life was horrible.  It is my hope that this Executive Order will spur development of regulation and enforcement for the safe handling of ammonium nitrate and other gaps in the coverage of reactive hazards that the CSB has previously identified to help prevent future incidents.

‘I am encouraged that the Executive Order calls for the revision and strengthening of EPA’s Risk Management Program and OSHA’s Process Safety Management standard.  The CSB has long urged such improvements, specifically that reactive hazards - such as ammonium nitrate – be more comprehensively regulated under RMP and PSM.

‘The CSB looks forward to a discussion of the Memoranda of Understanding with various agencies.  We trust that enhanced MOUs would address site access for all, preservation of evidence for all, and sharing of information and testing results among all agencies, while protecting sensitive witness information so that all stakeholders and the public can learn what happened and  work to prevent major incidents in the future.'

  • Operation Florian

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