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Unpacking EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) Amendment

June 4th, 2024 by Dakota Software Staff

Unpacking EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) Amendment

After a lengthy review, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an amendment to its Risk Management Program (RMP) rule on March 11, 2024. The Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule significantly updates and enhances RMP requirements under the Clean Air Act (CAA), including new or revised provisions related to accident prevention, emergency preparedness, reporting, and public availability of information regarding hazardous chemicals.

While the rule is likely to face legal challenges, environment, health, and safety (EHS) managers at entities covered by the RMP rule should keep a close eye on developments. Here’s an overview of what’s in the amendment so you can stay ahead of any compliance challenges it may bring to your organization.

RMP: The Environmental Cousin to PSM

The RMP standard, found at 40 CFR 68 and originating from Section 112(r) of the CAA, was created to address chemical release prevention at facilities where certain hazardous chemicals are stored, distributed, and/or used in operations. If that sounds familiar, it should—RMP is a close cousin to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Process Safety Management (PSM) Standard.

Both the RMP and PSM standards were created in response to a series of chemical incidents during the 1980s in the U.S. and abroad that resulted in devastating environmental impacts and loss of life. These incidents were determined to be a result of either failed or nonexistent controls—and it stood to reason that better controls would result in fewer incidents. As a result, OSHA published its final PSM rule in February 1992, and the RMP final rule was published by EPA in June 1996.

Many processes and chemicals regulated under PSM are also regulated under RMP (and vice versa). But while there is some overlap, these regulations are not identical. Chemical quantity thresholds may differ under the respective rules, and RMP is a bit more expansive. Going beyond the 14 elements of PSM, RMP has additional requirements, including an “Offsite Release Consequence Analysis” that relates to air releases and their effects on the surrounding environment and communities (hence RMP’s placement under the authority of the EPA and CAA). The two standards also have different compliance calendars and reporting requirements, and RMP has three program levels whereas PSM has only one.

With three decades passed since their initial publication, updates to both PSM and RMP have been long expected—and the amended RMP final rule was published in the Federal Register in March 2024.

New Amendment: Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention

Seven years in the making, the amended RMP final rule has an expansive reach. Compliance obligations—and the costs of meeting them—will change for every facility covered by RMP (an estimated 11,740 facilities). Some of the more crucial highlights of concern to EHS managers include the following.

  • Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis (STAA). One of the biggest (and most costly) changes to RMP requires facilities in the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry, including petroleum refining, and chemical manufacturing industry to perform STAA to assess their controls and, where practicable, implement inherently safer technology or design (IST/ISD) or other passive measures to update their processes and safeguards.

  • Investigations, auditing, and emergency preparedness/response. In addition to STAA, the RMP final rule outlines other new requirements for numerous elements of prevention programs. These include performing investigations of all RMP-reportable incidents within 12 months, using root cause analysis (RCA) or another recognized investigative method; third-party compliance audits for facilities deemed to pose a higher risk of community impact; and coordination with local, state, and federal emergency response agencies. Program 2 and 3 facilities must also conduct simulated emergency response field exercises once every 10 years.

  • Accounting for natural hazards. The RMP final rule includes a revised definition of “natural hazards” (i.e., wildfires, earthquakes, floods, extreme temperatures, etc.) and requires facilities to perform a process hazard analysis (PHA) to assess the impact these hazards may have on chemical containment.

  • Public access to information. Under the amended final rule, members of the public living, working, or spending significant time within a six-mile radius of an RMP-covered facility may submit a request for chemical hazard information (including names of chemicals, safety data sheets (SDSs), accident history, and certain information about emergency response procedures). Owners and operators would be expected to provide this information within 45 days of request.

  • Employee participation. Program 2 and 3 facilities are required to write a plan for employee participation in RMP, covering items ranging from training to anonymous reporting of hazards, accidents, or noncompliance with controls. Program 3 facilities must also include stop work authority for certain designated, knowledgeable employees.

The final rule provides for a three-year period to allow organizations to come into compliance, with a final compliance date of May 10, 2027 for most components and an exception for the “Emergency Response Field Exercise Frequency” requirement, which has a compliance date of March 15, 2027. Full details are available in the text of the final rule.

Will It Stand?

Court challenges to the RMP final rule are highly likely, and, as with any regulation, it has its supporters and detractors.

  • Proponents of the rule say its expansion of controls will lead to facilities that are ultimately safer and will experience fewer chemical releases or accidents. They also point to greater transparency through informing the public of chemical hazards in the community and how they are being mitigated.

  • Opponents of the rule point to the high cost of implementing many of its new prevention program requirements (particularly STAA). They also point out the potential for national security risks, as more publicly available information on the whereabouts of hazardous chemicals could be used by bad actors.

In any case, EHS managers can’t assume one outcome or the other when it comes to compliance—and the best course of action is to be prepared for any eventuality.

When Regulations Shift, EHS Adapts

EHS compliance is often complex and sometimes unpredictable—and managers need to use every tool they have to stay compliant, mitigate risk, and protect workers and the environment. Dakota Software helps you maintain RMP compliance with software solutions that help you plan, track, verify, and improve your programs, with an expert-curated regulatory database and regulatory alerts to keep you in the know whenever rules change.

View our demo library to find solutions built to meet your unique organizational EHS challenges.

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