US chemical, energy firms press Congress on arbitrary EPA rules

28 February 2013 23:01 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US petrochemical, chemical, refinery, agriculture and distribution industries on Thursday urged Congress to pass a bill that would rein-in what they allege is the Environmental Protection Agency’s arbitrary enforcement of clean air rules.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) were joined by more than 20 other trade groups in urging Congress to stop EPA from haphazard and irregular enforcement of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) “general duty clause”.

Under that clause of the 1990 CAA, chemical companies and other facility operators are required to identify plant areas that might be the source of accidental releases of hazardous substances.

But in their letter to members of Congress on Thursday, chemical producers, energy firms and a broad array of other industry groups charged that EPA has never articulated any rules or guidelines defining general duty requirements, measures or compliance.

They have complained that EPA inspectors frequently cite the general duty clause as authority for imposing fines on plant operators for facility conditions that do not violate other specific rules under the Clean Air Act.

“In recent years, EPA has increasingly used the General Duty Clause to impose substantial penalties on facilities,” the trade groups said in their letter to Congress.

“This situation has created uncertainty for industry, leaving questions about how compliance is measured and when compliance has been achieved,” the letter said.

The industry groups urged Congress to pass HR-888, the “General Duty Clarification Act of 2013”.

The bipartisan bill would require EPA to issue regulations and guidelines on how the general duty clause is to be enforced so that operators would have some sense of what is prohibited or allowed under the provision.

The measure also would affirm that regulatory authority for assessing anti-terrorism security measures at chemical plants and other facilities remains solely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and barring the EPA from any such role.

The letter said that unspecified interest groups have been pressing EPA to use the general duty clause to establish the agency’s jurisdiction over anti-terrorism security requirements at chemical facilities. DHS has had that responsibility since 2006.

John Shanahan, vice president for legislative affairs at the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), told members of Congress that EPA’s arbitrary application of the general duty clause “is an unsustainable situation”.

“Our facility managers need clear rules so they can comply with them,” Shanahan said, “otherwise it’s regulatory guesswork.”

Other signatories to the letter include the American Petroleum Institute (API), The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the US Chamber of Commerce.

HR-888 has yet to be assigned to a House committee for consideration.

By Joe Kamalick