EPA Inspector General: Risk Management Program Needs Improvement

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in need of significant improvements in the implementation of the agency's Risk Management Program, according to a report from the office of the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Under the Risk Management Program, facilities that contain more than 140 regulated toxic and flammable substances are required to submit a risk management plan (RMP) to EPA. It was created by an amendment to the Clean Air Act in 1996, and it is designed "to reduce the likelihood of airborne chemical releases that could harm the public, and mitigate the consequences of releases that do occur."

According to “EPA Can Improve Implementation of the Risk Management Program for Airborne Chemical Releases (Report No. 09-P-0092),” greater accountability is needed for the Risk Management Program. According to the OIG report:

  • EPA has no procedures for identifying that facilities have not submitted or re-submitted their RMPs. An analysis of facilities in Colorado, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Oklahoma with large quantities of regulated chemicals stored on-site found that 48 out of 62 high-risk facilities that may be subject to the Risk Management Program had not filed RMPs. About 5 percent of covered facilities had not updated their RMPs, as is required every 5 years. The OIG found that EPA had no national procedures or timelines to identify non-filers.
  • EPA's inspection process is not strong enough to provide assurance that facilities are complying with program requirements. More than half of the high-risk facilities never have been inspected. The report notes that 162 high-risk facilities, each impacting more than 100,000 people in the event of a worst-case chemical accident, have never been inspected by EPA officials.

Many of the problems are attributed to the structure of the program. Most states rejected delegation of the program (only nine states administer the program inside their respective jurisdictions), so EPA must ensure compliance for the overwhelming majority of facilities nationwide.

OIG proposed that EPA adopt a risk-based approach to inspections so that high-risk facilities receive priority. EPA is working on solutions to follow through on these recommendations and anticipates completion by the end of 2009.

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