Monday, January 20, 2014

Chemical Safety and Security EO – Any Movement?

This is part of a continuing series of blog posts discussing President Obama’s executive order on “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security” (EO 13650). The other posts in the series are:

I have been writing a series of blog posts on the request for information published last month seeking public input on areas that the organizations represented on the Working Group should be doing to improve chemical safety and security. This is all in support of §6(a) requirements from the EO. What about the other 90-day deadline requirements? What were they? Here is my list from an earlier blog:

The Attorney General, through the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), shall assess the feasibility of sharing data related to the storage of explosive materials with SERCs, TEPCs, and LEPCs. No Public Action.

The Secretary of Homeland Security shall assess the feasibility of sharing Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) data with SERCs, TEPCs, and LEPCs on a categorical basis. No Public Action.

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. No Public Action.

The Working Group shall 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. No Public Action.

The Working Group shall develop options for improved chemical facility safety and security that identifies improvements to existing risk management practices through agency programs, private sector initiatives, Government guidance, outreach, standards, and regulations. This is being addressed under the §6(a) RFI.

The Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Agriculture shall 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. Partially addressed by EPA guidance document.

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. Partially addressed by OSHA PSM RFI and §6(a) RFI.

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. Partially waiting on public feedback from OSHA PSM RFI and §6(a) RFI.

The Secretary of Homeland Security shall identify a list of chemicals, including poisons and reactive substances, that should be considered for addition to the CFATS Chemicals of Interest list. No Public Action.

The Secretary of Labor shall identify any changes that need to be made in the retail and commercial grade exemptions in the PSM Standard. Partially addressed by OSHA PSM RFI and §6(a) RFI.

The Secretary of Labor shall issue a Request for Information designed to identify issues related to modernization of the PSM Standard and related standards necessary to meet the goal of preventing major chemical accidents. Fully covered by OSHA PSM RFI; just a month late.

Some work is obviously being done, though extremely slowly since it is over two months since the November 5th deadline and Friday it will be two months after the deadline plus a reset for the Federal funding fiasco (FFF). The reason for the delay, in most cases, is that the level of complexity for the identified problems is very high and there is need for coordinated activities across too many government agencies.

Another Deadline Missed

On December 20th (or January 8th if you accept the FFF excuse) the third deadline was missed. This one was even more obviously going to be missed because it included more agencies and organizations. I described the requirement this way:

The Working Group shall develop a plan to support and further enable efforts by State regulators, State, local, and tribal emergency responders, chemical facility owners and operators, and local and tribal communities to work together to improve chemical facility safety and security. No Public Action.

No Public Action

I have been careful to characterize the activity level on many of these objectives as “No Public Action”. Most of these activities did not specifically require public input or cooperation to meet the deadline requirements so there was no specific requirement to complete the work in public. I suspect (and more than suspect in a couple of instances) that there has been on-going work on the objectives; just no reportable results.

There was no way that the time objectives of the EO were ever going to be met, even ignoring the FFF. The topics were just too complex and there was no single person put in charge. Anyone with any organizational experience had to realize that it was going to take at least a month for the Working Group to get organized and actually start working.

It is becoming more and more obvious that this effort is bogging down because of a combination of bureaucratic infighting, a way too complex agenda, and the fact that it is going to take legislation to correct most of the problems identified. And we all know that most of these issues will not be dealt with by Congress in an election year. In fact, they probably will not be dealt with by Congress until there is a veto proof (internal and external) single party majority in both the Senate and House.

Unless, of course, someone blows up something much larger than West, Texas.

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