It’s “National Preparedness Month”

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EPA Phone # to report spills 800-424-8802

President Trump issued another Executive Order today.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim
September 2017 as National Preparedness Month
.

I encourage all Americans, including Federal, State, and local officials, to take action to be prepared for disaster or emergency by making and practicing their plans.  Each step we take to become better prepared will make a real difference in how our families and communities will respond and persevere when faced with the unexpected.

The horrific events unfolding in Texas following Hurricane Harvey’s onslaught shine a spotlight on just how important “preparedness” is. But – typical of what we’re seeing from the Trump Administration –  the Words aren’t supported by the actions.

The Trump Administration’s approach to “preparedness” is to slash funding and eliminate trained staff in every single EPA emergency planning, preparedness and response program.1 

EPA plays a crucial role in planning, response and recovery efforts in everything from oil spills to hurricanes to terrorism.  EPA is on point to address a wide variety of threats from life-threatening emergencies like explosions and fires to public health dangers that create short and long-term illness from bacterial infections to cancer.  EPA’s experienced staff provide training and technical support to local/state emergency responders all across the country, while managing the national response network for chemical and petroleum spills and hazards. 

When an incident occurs, EPA mobilizes trained staff to contain and manage toxic substances released through industrial accidents, sabotage and extreme weather events.  EPA’s labs provide critical analyses so emergency personnel at all levels of government know how to best respond. Right now, as the disaster in Texas continues to unfold,  EPA’s emergency responders,  laboratory scientists and regional staff are working work in partnership with state and local agencies to:
 
  • respond to petrochemical spills
  • deal with sewage treatment plants, including raw sewage spills
  • address seepage and potential seepage at Superfund sites
  • assess drinking water and wastewater systems to ensure that water is safe to drink
  • address basement oil tank problems in residences, businesses and industrial sites damaged by flooding
  • collect household waste as well as lead and asbestos contaminated building debris
Emergency responders dragging booms across a river to stop chemicals from flowing downstream.

EPA emergency response personnel responding to a water borne release. Photo courtesy Tetratech.

Cuts to EPA’s Planning, Preparedness and Response Programs

Here’s what EPA“preparedness” looks like in the proposed Trump budget.

Oil Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Emergency Response – cut by 15%

This program addresses leaks/discharges from above-ground storage tanks, pipelines and production facilities, and requires emergency planning for high risk oil storage facilities and refineries.  EPA is the lead responder for cleanup of inland zone spills (pipelines, trucks, railcars, and other transportation systems), and provides technical assistance/support to the U.S. Coast Guard for coastal and maritime oil spills. The FY 18 budget indicates that EPA’s role in responding to marine and coastal spills will be reduced (or eliminated).

Key parts of the Oil Spill Program are: 

Spill Prevention/Containment. EPA conducts oil spill prevention, preparedness, compliance assistance and enforcement activities associated with more than 640,000 non-transportation-related oil storage facilities that the EPA regulates through its spill prevention program. In FY 17, EPA’s goal was to bring 60% of SPCC facilities that were found to be non-compliant (during FY 2010 through FY 2016) into compliance. No compliance targets are identified in 2018 (and the 2017 performance assessment was not included in the FY18 Congressional Budget Justification.) 

Facility Response Plans.  The largest and highest risk oil storage facilities and refineries must prepare facility response plans (FRPs) to identify response resources and ensure their availability in the event of a worst case discharge. EPA’s regulated universe includes approximately 4,400 FRP facilities. In FY 17, EPA’s goal was to bring 60% of FRP facilities that were found to be non-compliant (during FY 2010 through FY 2016) into compliance. EPA requested additional funding for inspections at high risk facilities. “These inspections require more extensive resources due to the complex nature of the facilities and the remote location of some facilities.” In 2018, neither inspections nor compliance targets are identified for high risk facilities (and the 2017 performance assessment was not included in the FY18 Congressional Budget Justification.)

Chemical Facility Safety: State and Local Prevention and Preparedness – cut by 35%

This program has responsibility to create the national regulatory framework to prevent, prepare for, and respond to catastrophic accidental chemical releases at industrial facilities (including petroleum facilities).  In 2016, EPA finalized the Risk Management Program rule, based on recommendations from the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group (and after extensive public engagement).  The FY17 budget identified implementation of this new rule as a priority.

Following Scott Pruitt’s appointment as EPA Administrator, seven industry trade associations  petitioned for reconsideration of the Risk Management Program rule (American Chemistry Council, American Forest & Paper Association, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute, USA Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Utility Air Regulatory Group). In response, the Trump Administration delayed rule implementation and stated its intention to “reconsider” the rule.  (Twelve states have sued to force Rule implementation.)  

The Chemical Safety Board just opened an investigation into the hurricane-induced ongoing explosions at the Arkema chemical plant in Houston.  The Trump Administration has also targeted the Chemical Safety Board for elimination.

Toxics Release Inventory/Community Right to Know – cut by 38%

EPA publishes a public report each year detailing releases of pollutants and toxic substances into air, water, and soils from approximately 20,000 industrial and federal facilities.   The TRI report and associated stakeholder engagement activities are being scaled back in FY18.  Facility compliance and enforcement assistance activities provided through this program are not addressed in FY18.

Superfund Emergency Response program- cut by ~20%.

The Superfund Emergency Response and Removal program resources address releases that pose an imminent threat to public health or welfare and the environment, while the Superfund Remedial program addresses more long-term cleanup activities.

Training and technical support to local emergency responders – scaled back significantly

EPA provides training and technical assistance around response to chemical and oil incidents for emergency responders in states, local communities, tribes and other federal agencies, and industry through several of these “emergency preparedness programs. in FY18, EPA’s role in training and technical assistance is significantly scaled back.

Underground Injection Control program – significantly scaled back.

Funding for State/Tribal permitting activities is reduced by 30%; the exact $ amount of cuts to EPA’s portion are not identified in the proposed budget. 

Over half of people living in the US, and 99% of people living in rural areas, get their drinking water from groundwater supplies. Oil and gas extraction, injection and disposal wells are frequently drilled into formations that are connected to drinking water aquifers. EPA and States regulate oil and gas wells through the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Underground Injection Control program.

UST/LUST program – cut 48%

The  Leaking Underground Storage Tank Prevention program (compliance inspections) is eliminated.  Funding for State & Tribal UST/LUST programs is eliminated.   Funding for the LUST cleanup program is reduced by 30% for both States/Tribes and EPA.

More than half a million releases from underground storage tanks (containing petroleum and hazardous substances) have been reported since the program began in 1988.  In FY17, EPA reported that about 86% of these LUSTs had been addressed; those remaining are complex and expensive to address. EPA has also increased compliance monitoring at facilities with active USTs to prevent new links, a strategy the Agency identifies as essential to addressing the backlog of cleanups.

Happy National Preparedness Month, everybody!

Footnotes

1Just two weeks ago, President Trump signed another EO eliminating thefederal flood risk management standard that asked agencies to account for climate change projections when they approved infrastructure projects. The Administration is also taking multiple steps to reduce the scope of reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Scoping and agency comments under NEPA are typically how needs for better planning for flooding and emergency preparedness are flagged. 

 

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