Wednesday, February 27, 2019

San Pedro Butane Storage Again

At today’s CFATS hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee there was an interesting exchange between Rep. Barragan (D,CA) and Director Wulf (video starting at 1:59:41) about a butane storage facility near the Port of Los Angeles. The name of the facility is not mentioned, but it sounded very familiar. I have been pouring back through my records and I think that I know why it sounded so familiar.

Back in the summer of 2013 (I have been at this for a while now) then Rep. Waxman (D,CA) sent a letter to DHS expressing concerns about the CFATS related emergency response planning at the ‘Rancho Palos Verde facility’. He explained that chemical security inspectors had accepted company reports that they had shared their emergency response plan with local first responders while the EPA was taking action against the facility for failure to do exactly that.

Barragan’s comments today were related to the specific hazards associated with the facility and whether or not those had been adequately evaluated by the CFATS program. ISCD Director Wulf assured her that those hazards were well understood by the program. She also questioned if compliance inspections were being rushed (with the implied possibility for overlooking problems) and Wulf assured her that CSI were not being administratively pushed to too quickly successfully conclude a compliance inspection.

What was not addressed in the exchange was whether or not the CFATS security program at the facility adequately protected the community. Remembering that the CFATS program is designed to help facilities protect themselves from attack, not accidents; the chemical hazard is still there. Other agencies (the EPA and OSHA) oversee the programs designed to prevent accidents. And no safety or security program is ever going to be 100% effective.

Barragan’s concerns today were not the same as those expressed six years ago by Waxman, but local communities are going to continue to be concerned about their safety when living near big and potentially dangerous chemical facilities. The fact that this local facility has twice made the national news for chemical safety reasons, without an actual incident taking place, clearly reminds us about the legitimacy of those concerns.

The other thing of interest that this facility highlights is the legitimacy of the concerns expressed today by a number of the Committee Members about how well the CFATS program ensures that information about emergency response issues is shared with the local emergency response community. It is not enough that the facility have an emergency response plan drawn up, but it must be shared with the community and should be exercised to work out any bugs in the plan well before an incident takes place. I am sure that we are going to hear more about this issue in the House before a bill is sent to the Senate.

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