The Real Story Behind the Everlasting EPA “RMP” Inspection Report

03 13, 2013 by LMOGA

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s (LABB) unrelenting focus on turning an inspection report into an ongoing news event has, understandably, created quite a lot of confusion around the concept of Risk Management Planning (RMP) and what it means for refinery communities. EPA’s summary of a 2012 inspection of the Baton Rouge Refinery is one part of an established –yet in this instance, misunderstood – federal review process.

So before we see another round of false charges and inaccurate media coverage, we thought we’d take the opportunity to explain the actual RMP process -- using EPA’s own words:

What is an RMP?

Under a provision of the Clean Air Act, facilities that handle certain chemicals are required to prepare a Risk Management Plan (RMP) to prevent or mitigate accidental releases. Refineries are among those facilities covered under the provision. They are required to submit their RMP to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are subject to inspection.

RMPs: A Comprehensive Approach to Addressing Challenges before They Become Problems

A facility’s risk management plan is a public document developed using guidance from EPA and is a part of a comprehensive approach to protecting the public from accidental releases. EPA’s “General Risk Management Program Guidance” provides just that – guidance to developing a successful risk management program – but does not create any legally binding requirements on its own.

According to the EPA, “there is no one ‘right’ way to develop and implement a risk management program and many of its guidance requirements provide “flexibility to develop an approach that makes sense” for the individual facility.

The RMP Inspection Process

The RMP inspection process is a collaborative effort between industry and government agencies to ensure a safe working environment for employees, and a clean environment for the surrounding community. The following are key takeaways from EPA’s “Guidance for Conducting Risk Management Program Inspections under Clean Air Act Section 112(r)”:

  • Inspectors and RMP reports do not cite violations or administer penalties.
  1. The inspector(s) should never state that the facility is “in compliance” or that “violations” have been observed. Determining that a violation has occurred is done after the inspection by the appropriate enforcement program in consultation with legal counsel.” (p. 19)

  • Inspections do not by themselves result in enforcement actions.
  1. “Pursuant to an inspection, a facility may be required to revise its RMP and correct deficiencies in its underlying Risk Management Program. For example, if an inspection indicated that a facility had not reviewed and updated operating procedures after a change and that such updates were needed, the facility could be required to update the procedures, re-train workers in the new procedures, and submit a revised RMP.” (p.8)

  • Inspection reports are redacted by government agencies – not companies.
  1. “[W]hen considering whether to provide an inspection report, the regional office must take into account the necessity to ensure trade secrets and confidential business information are protected pursuant to statutory requirements and implementing agency regulations and policies. (p. 21)

  • Enforcement actions can take many forms – none of which are outlined in an RMP report.
  1. “If observations and other information support the determination of violations, there are several types of enforcement actions among which the implementing agency may choose to pursue. Such actions include, for example, notices of violations, administrative orders, monetary fines and penalties, injunctive relief, and supplemental environmental projects. Implementing agencies should consult applicable enforcement response policies in order to determine appropriate enforcement actions.” (p. 22)