EPA looks to mitigate chemical plant disasters

EPA looks to mitigate chemical plant disasters
© Getty Images

A new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation aims to minimize the harm to local communities from disasters at chemical plants.

The regulation overhauls major sections of the EPA’s Risk Management Program for such plants, with new requirements that companies coordinate with local officials and first responders, and learn from past mistakes.

The rule comes less than a month before President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE takes office, so it could be invalidated by Congress easily. But the regulation has not received the same opposition from Trump and Republicans as more high-profile rules that are likely to be targeted first.

ADVERTISEMENT
The rule was prompted in part by a 2013 explosion at a chemical plant in West, Texas, that killed 15, injured dozens more and destroyed more than 150 buildings.

“We think this will increase the safety of communities living adjacent to chemical processing plants, while ensuring that they’re integrated within the way that chemical plants operation, because the plants provide an essential service to communities around the country,” Mathy Stanislaus, head of the EPA’s office for land and emergency management, told reporters Wednesday.

“Our data shows that while numerous chemical plants operate safely, in the last 10 years, there have been over 1,500 accidents reported by facilities subject to the [risk management] program.”

The bulk of the rule sets new standards for how companies communicate with their local communities, first responders, government and others, so the local area is prepared for potential explosions or other accidents.

“One of the key issues is to make sure that there’s full knowledge between the facility operators and the local responding community to make sure that they understand who is responding and who has the responsibility to respond,” Stanislaus said.

The rule requires active consultation among the parties involved, meetings if the local officials decide they are necessary and regular response drills.

Other provisions mandate thorough investigations of near misses, extensive third-party audits after actual accidents and, for the riskiest plants, studies of alternative plant technology that could be safer.