Attack on Risk Management Plans

Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act requires the creation of Risk Management Plans to address prevention of chemical accidents. In particular, chemical facilities must identify and assess their chemical hazards and carry out certain activities designed to reduce the likelihood and severity of chemical releases. The law requires this information to be available to the public. According to EPA, “Using this information citizens will have the opportunity to work with industry to reduce risks to the community from chemical accidents.” Angela Logomasini of the Competitive Enterprise Institute published a piece in the Washington Times on September 27 providing a “wake-up call” to reevaluate disclosure of RMP information. The article criticizes Greenpeace for collecting OCA data from 50 plants in Louisiana and producing a report on potential dangers. Rick Hind, the legislative director for the Greenpeace Toxic Campaign, responded with a letter, noting “[the idea that] greater restriction of this information will somehow prevent terrorist attacks is hopelessly naive.” He adds, “Any cursory reading of chemical engineering text books will show that facilities making and using large amount of chemicals such as chlorine have the potential for a catastrophic leak of poison gas.” He continues by suggesting these “ultra hazardous” chemicals have safer substitutes and should be phased out as recommended by the International Joint Commission in 1992. On the heels of the CEI article, a document titled “Counterterrorism Security of Sensitive Information,” purportedly written by the American Water Works Association, has been circulating around Congress. The document provides a host of recommendations that clamp down on the public’s right-to-know, particularly as it relates to RMPs. For example, one recommendation is to close all reading rooms until the information “is determined to pose no terrorist threat” – an impossible standard. Another recommendation is to amend the Freedom of Information Act to exempt “sensitive information” such as RMP from disclosure requirements. And if FOIA cannot be amended, it recommends the government not collect “sensitive information that currently cannot be protected from FOIA disclosure.” On September 27, the National Review Online, which advertises itself as “America’s Premier Conservative Website,” provided a guest commentary from Jonathan H. Adler, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University, which criticizes OMB Watch for making the RMP executive summaries publicly accessible through RTK NET. “Thanks to their efforts, it only takes a few minutes online to discover potential targets for terrorist activity. A quick perusal of the listings for Ohio — from the AC Humko Columbus facility to the Zanesville Water Treatment Plant — reveals information about propane storage facilities, pharmaceutical plants, chemical factories, and other inviting targets.” Of course, he fails to mention that these facilities are also listed in the telephone book, on Internet search engines, and through many more sources. Adler continues: “At one facility, for example, the listed worst-case scenarios are: 1) an acrylonitrile spill exposing all within five miles to exposure levels above those deemed safe by EPA; and 2) a butadiene explosion in a rail car affecting 0.43 miles. Another RMP notes that nearby schools and churches will be within the radius of a worst-case chemical release.” This is where good people can view things very differently: he sees this as evidence of helping terrorists; we view it as helping community residents better understand the potential dangers that exist near them, and as a means to allow residents to argue for improved security and safety at the plants. Adler concludes, “The EPA needs to reconsider its insistence on the public’s ‘right to know,’ and Congress needs to revise Clean Air Act section 112r,” which requires the collection and dissemination of RMP data. This suggests that the RMP data is just the beginning of an attack on right-to-know. Paul Orum of the Working Group on Community Right to Know provided OMB Watch with a summary of what is in the RMPs that EPA has now removed from its web site and others are campaigning to make permanently inaccessible. His summary is as follows: 1) Executive Summary — a summary of the elements below (summaries vary widely; many are incomplete). 2) Section 1 — Registration — includes facility identification, location, owner/operator, emergency contact, regulatory contact, chemical of concern, number of employees, last safety inspection, etc. 3) Sections 2 through 5 — information is held in reading rooms and was not on EPA’s web site (worst case and alternative release scenarios for toxics and flammables). 4) Section 6 — Five-year accident history — includes only accidents that caused death, serious injury, or property damage. (For far more complete accident information, click here — NOT part of the Risk Management Planning program). 5) Section 7 — Prevention program — includes summary information identifying the process covered, substances, date of last update, checklist of Process Hazard Analysis type, major hazards to address, process controls, mitigation systems, changes since last analysis, training, maintenance, management of change. Some facilities file abbreviated prevention programs (section 8), because they have less hazardous conditions. 6) Section 9 — Emergency response — indicates whether the facility has an emergency response plan, and if so an indication of some major elements such as specific actions, communications, health care, employee training, etc. Click here for more.
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