Around 5,400 facilities will meet the criteria to submit a facility response plan.

In order to better protect the environmental impact on rivers, and other bodies of water, on March 21 the EPA finalized rules regarding the discharge of dangerous chemicals. These protections build on EPA’s recent issuance of the “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule,” which contains the strongest ever safety provisions to prevent and address explosions and other accidental airborne releases from chemical facilities.

The agency notes that climate change can supercharge the risks of dangerous chemical releases. For this reason they are requiring facilities to evaluate those risks and to plan for and respond to such releases. These response plans are a tool to ensure facilities are prepared to respond to a worst-case discharge of hazardous substances. The final rule requires various components to be included in the response plans, including hazard evaluation, personnel roles and responsibilities, response actions, and drills and exercises.

Additionally, the final rule provides a process for EPA Regional Administrators to assess facilities on a case-by-case basis and, if appropriate, to require a facility to develop a response plan based on, among other things, concerns related to potential impacts of a worst-case discharge on communities with environmental justice concerns.

“As climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, planning and preparedness for these incidents are especially important,” said Clifford Villa, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management, in a statement. “These new requirements will help protect the environment and communities by ensuring that facilities have planned for and can respond to worst-case discharges of hazardous substances, particularly in communities with environmental justice concerns, which are disproportionately located in proximity to industrial facilities.”

Thousands of facilities that manufacture, use and store some of the most dangerous chemicals brush up against waterways or are in flood-prone areas. The new policy comes after numerous disasters affecting drinking water supplies, wildlife habitats, and environmental justice communities that experience the brunt of extreme weather supercharged by climate change. 

“We are thankful that this administration is finally taking long overdue action to protect workers and communities against chemical disasters. Communities of color and the poor are experiencing the worst of the climate crisis are also on the front lines of the fight against policies that permit billions of pounds of pollution and concentrate the most dangerous industries in our communities” said Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA). “While we’re glad to see this rule taking steps in the right direction, we will continue to call on EPA to truly prevent disasters by transitioning away from inherently dangerous chemicals and processes as outlined in the Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals.” 

Section 311(j)(5) of the Clean Water Act directs the President to issue regulations requiring a facility owner or operator of a facility to prepare and submit to the EPA a plan for responding, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst-case discharge, and to a substantial threat of such a discharge, of oil or a hazardous substance. 

In 1994, EPA promulgated regulations for worst-case discharges of oil under 40 CFR part 112, subpart D. Today’s action regulates worst-case discharges of Clean Water Act hazardous substances from onshore, non-transportation-related facilities under section 311(j)(5). 

Spencer-SHE has been providing Safety, Health, and Environmental Compliance Guidance since 1980. We can assess your need(s) for facility response plan(s) and assist in full implementation.

Contact us here to help you to develop and maintain a safe and healthy workforce.