OSHA Settles Legal Challenge to Process Safety Management Chemical Mixtures Enforcement Memo

By Eric J. Conn, Amanda R. Strainis-Walker, and Bryan A. Carey

In March 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the closely watched Perez v. Mortgage Bankers. The Court’s decision killed a longstanding doctrine, set by the D.C. Circuit, that changes to federal agency rules, even if the changes are “interpretive” in nature, must go through Administrative Procedure Act public notice-and-comment.Mortgage Bankers Mortgage Bankers reversed that principle, and held that notice-and-comment rulemaking is not required for “interpretive rules” or “administrative interpretations.”

In the post-Mortgage Bankers world, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has a powerful new tool for backdoor rulemaking, and OSHA wasted no time taking advantage of this new legal doctrine. OSHA’s first efforts to utilize the new authority were seen in changes to its Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals standard (29 CFR 1910.119), which detail the requirements for operating and maintaining processes that use highly hazardous chemicals.  Less than three months after the Supreme Court issued the Mortgage Bankers decision, OSHA issued three separate interpretation letters to amend the PSM Standard:

  1. Narrowing the long-standing “Retail Exemption” from PSM-coverage;
  2. Defining and enforcing the application of “Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practices” (“RAGAGEP”); and
  3. Expanding the scope of chemical mixtures covered by the PSM Standard.

Read our earlier article about these three enforcement memorandum and the resolution by settlement of a legal challenge to the RAGAGEP interpretation.

The Chemical Mixture Interpretation

On June 5, 2015, OSHA issued an enforcement memorandum regarding PSM and Covered Concentrations of Appendix A Chemicals, which substantially revised OSHA’s policy on the concentrations of components of chemical mixtures that trigger the coverage under the PSM Standard.  Appendix A of the PSM Standard lists the “highly hazardous chemicals” that are Continue reading

OSHA Engages in Backdoor Rulemaking — Courtesy of the Supreme Court

By Eric J. Conn

OSHA is attempting to reap the policy-making benefits of a Supreme Court decision that lets regulatory agencies offer new (even contradictory) interpretations of existing rules without following the Administrative Procedure Act’s (“APA”) notice-and-comment rulemaking process, with the most immediate and serious impacts seen in the regulatory landscape of chemical process safety. OSHA policymakers have shown they are eager to exercise new-found authority to unilaterally change the meaning or application of existing regulations to suit their current agenda (i.e., without soliciting stakeholder input and otherwise flouting the traditional checks on agency rulemaking afforded by the APA, such as economic and feasibility analyses).

Perez v. Mortgage Bankers

That is the reality following the high court’s 2015 decision in the closely watched Perez v. Mortgage Bankers case. The Supreme Court’s decision killed a longstanding doctrine, set by the D.C. Circuit, that changes to agency rules, even if the changes are “interpretive” in nature, must go through APA public notice-and-comment.Mortgage Bankers Mortgage Bankers reversed that principle, and held that notice-and-comment rulemaking is not required for “interpretive rules” or “administrative interpretations.”

The effect of the Supreme Court’s new precedence is to free regulators, like OSHA, to change, though internal fiat, long-held positions regarding how its rules must be followed and enforced, and (if recent efforts by OSHA testing its new authority stand) even to whom its rules apply. In the post-Mortgage Bankers world, OSHA has a powerful new tool for backdoor rulemaking, an already favorite route for OSHA to end-run the burdensome standard-setting process imposed by Congress.

OSHA Impact of Mortgage Bankers

OSHA wasted no time taking this new legal doctrine out for a spin. OSHA’s first efforts to utilize the new authority were seen in Continue reading