After the Obama/Biden Administration’s efforts to “modernize” the way the federal government regulates chemical process safety, we saw much that rolled back, stalled, or amended as the Trump Administration implemented a de-regulatory agenda. As the regulatory ping-pong ball bounces back the other direction, the regulated community is left in limbo to see what will become of OSHA’s and EPA’s plans for process safety.
As the Biden Administration begins to make its mark in this arena, we are tracking rulemaking and enforcement from OSHA, EPA and the CSB, and whether and how far these agencies will go back to the previous policies to modernize the applicable regulations.
Following the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion, then-President Obama issued Exec. Orders directing OSHA, EPA and other agencies to “modernize” the chemical process safety regulatory landscape. OSHA and EPA took sweeping actions, from enforcement initiatives (like a new PSM National Emphasis Program) to rulemakings and interpretation letters.
Then President Trump took office with a de-regulatory agenda. But rather than unwavering deregulation, Trump Admin. initiatives in this area have been splintered, with some deregulatory work proceeding (e.g., rollback of RMP amendments), others coming to a complete halt (e.g., PSM reform rulemaking), and still others moving forward like business as usual (e.g., the Chem/REF PSM NEP inspections and the CSB’s new accidental release reporting rule). And now, with the Presidential Election behind us (sort of), and a new Biden Administration looming, we could see another significant shake-up of the regulatory landscape.
This webinar reviews the status and likely future of OSHA’s PSM Standard and EPA’s RMP Rule, CSB developments, and other process safety issues, such as the recent 10th Cir. Decision on PSM application to interconnected and co-located vessels.
the PSM standard applied to a utilities boiler; and
OSHA inappropriately relied upon the citation history of a prior owner in characterizing citations as Repeat.
Expanding PSM Coverage
With regard to PSM applicability, the decision is framed as a response to the arguments raised in the refinery’s brief, but it does not directly address the arguments raised by the amicus brief filed by AFPM and API. The Commission began its discussion of PSM applicability by evaluating the meaning of the definition of “process,” in particular how to interpret this phrase:
“For purposes of this definition, any group of vessels which are interconnected and separate vessels which are located such that a highly hazardous chemical (HHC) could be involved in a potential release shall be considered a single process.”
The Commission held that, in order to prove a group of vessels qualify as a process, OSHA may prove either that a) the group of vessels are interconnected or b) separate vessels are located such that an HHC could be involved in a potential release. With surprisingly little analysis, the Commission held that this was the plain meaning of the terms of the standard, and the Commission did not evaluate at all whether OSHA’s interpretation deserved deference. (Note: Chairwoman MacDougall disagreed that this was the plain meaning of the terms, but she agreed that OSHA’s interpretation of the definition deserved deference.)
This decision gave no credence to the arguments made by the refinery and the amici, which both urged the Commission to find that interconnected vessels be considered a single process only if there is a reasonable probability that an event such as an explosion would affect the interconnected vessels. Continue reading →