Thursday, March 6, 2014

More Details on the 135 Day EO 13650 WG Update

The EO 13650 Working Group update document that I mentioned this morning deals with Section 3 of the Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security. This section deals with improving coordination State, local and tribal authorities; including planning for and responding to incidents at chemical facilities.

The 7 page document published today address six areas that will make it easier for the federal government and facility owners to coordinate with these authorities that should be able to be the most responsive because of their proximity to the chemical facilities. Those areas are:

• Expand engagement of the chemical regulated community in the local emergency planning process.
• Improve training and protection for first responders, including a comprehensive implementation and compliance strategy for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response regulations.
• Provide further technical assistance to State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), Tribal Emergency Response Commission (TERCs), Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs) preparedness activities1.
• Identify and coordinate funding sources for LEPCs//TEPCs to sustain planning activities.
• Increase use of electronic reporting and data management.
• Improve public participation in LEPC/TEPCs emergency response planning and access to information about chemical facility risks.

There are a lot of good ideas for actions that could be taken before the end of this year (the short term) and things to consider for the longer term. Listing them all would make this post as long as the WG document, so I’ll concentrate on the ideas that I think will do the most to strengthen the role of LEPCs in the emergency response planning effort.

Missing Element

The one action that is missing from this discussion is, in my opinion, the most critical thing that EPA can do with regards to LEPCs is to do an audit to ensure that every regulated chemical facility (PSM, RMP and CFATS at a minimum) has at least one active LEPC that it can partner with in the emergency response planning process. Without an active LEPC most of the small to medium chemical facilities will be unable to develop an effective emergency response effort. The Working Group should consider developing an MOU between EPA and FEMA to utilize local FEMA contacts to help identify the core elements that would allow a new or revitalized LEPC to be stood up in those communities without an effective emergency planning organization.

Short Term Efforts

“During authorization and compliance inspections of Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) covered facilities, verify that emergency plans for security incidents are developed and coordinated with local law enforcement and first responders as required.” (pg2) The CFATS Risk-Based Performance Standard guidance document only mentions LEPC in passing in RBPS #9 (pg 86). This needs to be revised to provide more incentive for CFATS facilities to participate in the LEPC planning process. OSHA and EPA could require LEPC coordination in the PSM and RMP programs, DHS has been handicapped by Congress by being prohibited from requiring any specific activity in the facility site security plan.

“Develop and disseminate additional information for industry members, explaining roles and responsibilities in community emergency response planning and facility safety and security.” (pg 3)  The EPA has a fairly extensive web site (here for example) outlining the rules associated with the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Unfortunately, for all of its vaunted accessibility, the internet and its web sites are still a relatively passive form of communication; the community has to come looking for you. Pushing information to regulated facilities may help to overcome the information deficit.

“Develop guidance to assist LEPCs/TEPCs in developing chemical facility emergency response plans that will promote the inclusion of all relevant community stakeholders (i.e., first responders, community residents, community groups, schools, industry, utilities, etc.).” (pg 4) Guidance, training and exercises are the key to any effective emergency response plan. Unfortunately the way that many LEPCs are currently organized there is little in the way of emergency planning expertise to guide that process. Additional guidance and training will go a long way to making these LEPCs more effective.

A Long Way to Go

Most of the short term items listed in this Working Group document can be done without any assistance or authorization by Congress. The longer term problems associated with making the chemical emergency planning process work properly are not going to be able to be resolved by the Working Group. The biggest single problem with the LEPC process is the lack of federal money supporting the effort.

The crafters of EPCRA were faced with a classic regulatory problem how to establish an effective program without having to pay for it. Congress took the easy way out, they made the establishment of the LEPCs a State responsibility. Then they made it clear that the program should be run with emergency response personnel (as part of their normal duties) and volunteers, eliminating the need to fund salaries.

The West Fertilizer explosion and the Freedom spill have made it clear that emergency planning for chemical safety and security incidents is still not taking place with anywhere near the regularity envisioned in the grand vision of EPCRA.

As I have mentioned a number of times over the years of writing this blog (here for example) that the local emergency response planning effort will require at least one trained professional to oversee the effort. The only organization that has that kind of mandate is FEMA. I really think that the LEPC effort should be expanded and moved out of State control and into FEMA’s bailiwick. This is the only way that effective chemical emergency response planning is going to get into the areas where it is going to be needed.

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