IIAR, Industry Partners Respond to Regulatory Information Requests

Last year’s fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, drew the attention of regulatory agencies to nearly every corner of the chemical industry

Following that incident, President Obama issued an Executive Order directing each agency to audit and make changes to the programs that govern the chemical industry. These requests could eventually result in new regulations for ammonia refrigeration facilities where they concern security and safety.

For the ammonia refrigeration industry, the increased regulatory scrutiny resulted in three “requests for information” from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security, respectively.

The responses to those RFI’s from the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration and its industry partners could significantly impact the scope of regulatory changes in the near future.

“This gave us the opportunity to present information on how the industry is operating under our current standards and regulations,” said Dave Rule, IIAR president. “It allowed us to remind the various agencies that we already have some very detailed standards that we are following. Our hope is they will keep regulations in line with the standards that we have developed.”

As part of the response, IIAR formed a coalition with the American Frozen Food Institute, the American Meat Institute, the Global Chain Alliance, the Refrigerating Engineers and Technician Association and the U.S. Egg and Poultry Association to present a unified voice for the industry. “IIAR took a leadership role in putting together this coalition,” Rule said. “It demonstrated a broad spectrum response on behalf of our industry.”

Meanwhile, the RFIs the group convened to answer were extensive. EPA’s request ran more than 100 pages and included more than 300 questions. Among the proposals were more detailed requirements documenting how a facility with over 10,000 pounds of ammonia meets the standards established within the Process Safety Management (PSM) and the Risk Management Program (RMP); changing the guidelines employed with RAGAGEP; improved coordination with emergency responders and the local community; lowering the threshold quantities for regulated chemicals; and building a stronger CFATS program.

OSHA proposed revising the PSM standard to require additional management-system elements, while EPA took a similar route regarding the RMP standard. Both questions raised concerns from the coalition that because the programs are performance-based, requiring facilities to use and share metrics is more prescriptive than a performance-based regulation should mandate. In addition, both standards already include management practices in almost all elements.

“The fact that PSM and RMP are performance-based standards is critical because it recognizes that there are unique characteristics to each regulated facility and it allows these facilities to assess their hazards and risks, and develop a plan tailored to their specific needs,” said Lowell Randel, vice president of government and legal affairs with the Global Chain Alliance.

OSHA also proposed regulation that would require employers to evaluate updates to applicable RAGAGEP to help prevent or mitigate accidents. The coalition responded that IIAR standards represent the most applicable RAGAGEP for the ammonia refrigeration industry, that the standards should be the primary source material for OSHA inspectors in ammonia refrigeration facilities, and that it is important that facilities maintain the flexibility to define RAGAGEP for their own sites.

Among EPA’s proposals was lowering the threshold quantities for regulated chemicals. The coalition responded that such a move with the ammonia threshold quantity (currently at 10,000 pounds) would require smaller independent companies to needlessly increase their operating costs and could create financial stress.

EPA also proposed mandating inherently safer technology, or IST, reviews and to include local communities in the process. It was felt by the coalition that the regulatory burden of requiring costly IST reviews could stifle innovation by forcing companies to document activities that they are already performing. Small operations might not have the manpower or expertise to do this. Furthermore, local communities have virtually no expertise in safety and risk management related to the ammonia refrigeration industry.

“It’s not that we’re against regulation. We think it’s important to make sure our industry operates safely,” Rule said. “But there is always a balance. We need to make certain that the regulations aren’t overly onerous to the point where it creates an expense that’s not necessary to achieve industry safety standards.”

In August, the DHS issued an advance notice of rule-making for CFATS that could result in major changes in the regulatory approach and risk-based standards in the ammonia refrigeration industry. The request was fairly open-ended, asking the industry for input on how the program can operate more efficiently. The coalition pointed out that industrial refrigeration facilities using ammonia are not traditional chemical facilities, and a facility using closed-circuit systems with anhydrous ammonia should be exempt from the requirement of filing a Top-Screen with DHS unless another threshold quantity COI is present. The coalition responded that security measures in PSM and RMP already address the pertinent safety issues.

In summary, the coalition’s response to OSHA and EPA focused on the desire for member facilities to maintain the flexibility to develop systems that fit their unique needs, and that the agencies continue to view IIAR standards as the leading source of RAGAGEP for PSM and RMP so that government inspectors don’t misapply other standards to industry members. In regards to DHS, the coalition felt it was critical to reduce paperwork that did not provide a security benefit.

“Many of the issues raised in the RFIs are already covered in the standards that IIAR has developed,” Rule said. “Our hope is they will review the points we made in our responses and see that our industry is already doing a good job of following existing regulations, and that it has developed a very detailed, comprehensive list of standards that provides the proper methods of designing and operating an ammonia refrigeration system safely.”