US chem leader welcomes new federal plan for site safety

06 June 2014 18:39 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US chemical sector leaders on Friday welcomed a 120-page chemical facility safety action plan delivered to the White House by federal regulators, saying the multi-agency report recognises the key role of industry stakeholders.

Bill Allmond, vice president for government and public relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said it was noteworthy that the administration recognised “the need to maximise stakeholder input and strengthen communications between the federal government and state and local emergency planning committees”.

The report delivered to the White House earlier on Friday and titled “Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security - a Shared Commitment”, is the work of a six-agency task force that President Barack Obama established in August last year.

The task force, called an interagency working group (IWG), grew out of Obama’s 1 August executive order that followed the 17 April 2013 fatal explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer facility in Texas that killed 15 and injured some 200 others. The blast also caused about $200m worth of damage to the small town of West, Texas.

In January this year the IWG issued a detailed call for public comment on how safety and security at chemical sites might be improved, and the same document outlined multiple options for consideration.

The report issued on Friday is the result of stakeholder comments and agency considerations.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the three lead agencies in the task force, said that the report’s recommendations focus on five areas.

Saying that the report and its recommendations constitute “a milestone, not an endpoint”, DHS assistant secretary Caitlin Durkovich said that further work with industry and local authorities would focus on strengthening community planning and preparedness, federal coordination with state and city agencies, and by making improvements to data management and sharing.

Durkovich also said that the six pertinent agencies would look at ways to modernise policies and regulations, and she said that stakeholder feedback would be incorporated in efforts to develop best practices for site safety and security.

Among future steps being considered in modernising policies and regulations, the report said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would work to improve its Process Safety Management (PSM) programme, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would upgrade its longstanding Risk Management Program (RMP), in which chemical facility operators must produce detailed prevention and response reports every five years.

Enhancement of existing regulations also would involve better procedures for safety and security at sites producing or storing ammonium nitrate (AN), the agrochemical that was the principal substance in the West Fertilizer disaster.

In addition, member agencies of the task force will look for ways for “promoting safer technology and alternatives”, work more closely with state and local governments to prepare for possible chemical spills, and improve local notification procedures for those sites with stored explosives.

The call for using safer technologies and alternative chemicals has raised concerns among many in industry that the federal task force might seek to impose an inherently safer technology (IST) mandate on facilities.

The report also said that the administration will be seeking assistance from Congress to strengthen and increase civil and criminal penalties for spills or other chemical sector accidents.

Allmond added that while SOCMA welcomed the report’s inclusion of stakeholders in the process, “we will continue to study the report” and that his trade group anticipates “a sustained dialogue” with the administration.

In addition to EPA, DHS and OSHA (part of the Department of Labor), the task force includes officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

By Joe Kamalick