Agencies Offer Ideas for Preventing Chemical Disasters

Gerard Koudenburg/Shutterstock.com

Eight months after last spring’s chemical fertilizer explosion that took 15 lives in West, Texas, the Obama administration has released a set of new regulatory safety options.

The nonprofit advocacy community appears encouraged, but industry less so.

An August 2013 executive order set a deadline of 90 days for an analysis from a working group including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Environmental Protection Agency, Homeland Security Department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But October’s 16-day government shutdown, among other factors, delayed the release of nine options for comment, including some that would shift industry compliance with preventive measures from a voluntary to a mandatory basis.

The chemical facility safety and security working group defined its responsibility as seeking to “harmonize the collection and exchange of information to streamline enforcement, inform decision makers at all levels of government and first-responders and avoid duplication of regulatory requirements.”

The result is a set of possible changes addressing the safe and secure storage, handling, and sale of ammonium nitrate; options for expanding risk standards and risk management programs at OSHA and EPA; and possibilities for adding chemicals to the list of those monitored for potential terrorist use.

The feedback has been eagerly awaited by environmental and safety specialists in the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, which comprises 100 nonprofit groups that seek more mandatory safety requirements from industry. “The report is encouraging in two respects,” said Rick Hind, legislative director at Greenpeace, a coalition member. “It’s broader in its scope of options for addressing unfinished business that has allowed for gaps in regulatory protections that could help prevent future disasters. And it includes a number of changes involving the overarching issue of risk management,” he said.

Hind added that the coalition would like to see  a shift toward risk prevention, adding that  “volunteerism is fine” in some areas, but “isn’t cutting it” during a time when one in three Americans lives near a facility at risk of an industrial accident or terrorist strike, and “the only thing protecting us is pure dumb luck,” he said. The coalition hopes that “regulatory authorities have the political will to work with stakeholders to make sure we don’t miss a golden opportunity to prevent another West, Texas,” said Hind.

In a contrasting view, the American Chemistry Council issued a statement saying it was encouraged to see the working group considering some of the strategies it recommended, “including opportunities to improve the interaction of existing regulatory programs, leverage industry programs, identify outlier facilities and create better mechanisms for sharing information with first responders. However, we are concerned that [the group] is looking at possibly pursuing options that will further complicate an overly complex regulatory system by creating requirements for assessing safer alternatives, as well as considering a regulatory model that would exceed the authority the agencies have today instead of focusing on how to improve current programs.”

The independent U.S. Chemical Safety Board also has been coordinating with the multi-agency working group.

(Image via Gerard Koudenburg/Shutterstock.com)

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.