ICYMI: Inhofe Speaks on Senate Floor on EPA's Risk Management Program Rule

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee, today spoke on the Senate floor on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) risk management program (RMP) rule. 

Risk rule

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, in the two and a half months between the presidential election and inauguration day, the Obama administration produced over 200 rulemakings, 41 of which are considered economically significant rules—rules that will result in $100 million or more in annual costs.

Over the course of his administration, President Obama added 481 economically significant regulations to the Federal Register, over a hundred more than Bush or Clinton.

Regulations cost our citizens $1.89 trillion per year and more than 580 million hours of paperwork in order to comply with this staggering amount of rules.

One such midnight regulation, finalized on Jan. 13, is the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule entitled “Accidental Release Prevention Requirements: Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Act”. EPA states that the purpose of the updated rule “is to improve safety at facilities that use and distribute hazardous chemicals.”

As you can imagine, environmentalists and safety groups will not be happy if this rule is changed, but I argue that this rule does not make facilities or the surrounding communities safer. In fact, it could put them at greater risk.

There are several concerns with this rule, but the biggest one is the national security implications due to the rule’s public disclosure requirements. Under the new RMP rules, facilities are required to share information on the types of chemicals stored there and security vulnerabilities with emergency responders and, upon request, to the general public. The rule does not provide for the protection of this information from further disclosure once provided.

It is well known that terrorists have considered attacks on chemical facilities as a way to kill citizens and cause mass destruction to our communities. Requiring the disclosure of this information to anyone who asks is reckless and impossible to understand. In fact, Congress has passed several bills to protect just this kind of information. I was even the author of one of these bills.

Under the Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act of 1999, the distribution of sensitive information from chemical facilities is limited to publically available federal reading rooms and certain federal, state, and local officials and researchers, who are then barred from further disseminating the information.

This makes sense, we need local officials to know what they should do in the event there’s a problem. But our enemies should not be able to get this information.

But the new RMP rule by EPA does not provide any of these protections to the information now required to be shared upon request, to include audit reports, exercise schedules and summaries and emergency response details—all of which would provide those intent on criminal acts with a blueprint of facility and emergency response vulnerabilities. This requirement does nothing to make these facilities safer, but actually increases the chance for harm to be done to them.

The sole reason that this rule was updated by the Obama administration stems from the West, Texas chemical plant explosion in 2013. Yet, this rule on “accidental release prevention” would do nothing to prevent another West, Texas, because that explosion and fire was intentional—it was an act of arson.

The Obama administration used this tragedy that took 15 lives as an excuse to make these facilities and the surrounding communities less safe—it just doesn’t make sense. Unless you look at what else this rule does.

This rule is a first step in EPA expanding its authority under the Clean Air Act to mandate how chemicals are manufactured and used. EPA is requiring paper, petroleum, coal, and chemical manufacturing industries to conduct safer technology and alternative analysis (STAA) as part of their process hazard analysis. In conducting a STAA, these industries must consider inherently safer technologies (IST) or inherently safer designs (ISD).

While the rule stops short of requiring EPA’s approval of the STAAs or requiring the implementation of IST or ISD, it is only a matter of time before environmental groups begin to litigate this issue and ask activist courts to force EPA to mandate these measures. This is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent.

Industry will tell you that the best time to assess inherently safer technologies and designs is during the initial design phase.  Furthermore, industries are constantly evaluating their processes and making changes at the margins based on what works best for their products and customers.

Allowing the EPA to become a part of that conversation adds a third party to the equation that does not care about the company, the products, or the consumers. The inherent safety of a technology or design is a relative standard, and what might be “safer” for one company or product does not mean it will be a “safer” within a process at a different company or for a different product. For example, it may be inherently safer to store or use less of a hazardous material, but that would likely increase the number of shutdowns and startups due to not having enough materials on hand.

Research shows that the shutting down and restarting of a chemical process poses a greater risk than continuous operation would.  Additionally, you would increase deliveries and movement of hazardous materials throughout the surrounding communities, shifting the risk elsewhere—how can we say definitively that this is safer?

As you can see, there is no definitive answer to what would be inherently safer, and allowing EPA’s foot in the door on this will only lead to a heavy-handed mandate that will hurt industries, consumers, and jobs.

This rule was promulgated on the premise of preventing another West, Texas tragedy, but this rule does nothing to protect facilities from the intentional actions of a criminal or terrorist and, in fact, would aid them in their quest to do us harm. Mr. President, I’ve only outlined a couple of the many concerns that this rule creates and I believe we should take a look at what this rule actually does and consider action on this midnight regulation.