Today, the President signed an Executive Order to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities and reduce the risks of hazardous chemicals to workers and communities. Chemicals and the facilities that manufacture, store, distribute and use them are essential to our economy. However, incidents such as the devastating explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas in April are tragic reminders that the handling and storage of chemicals present serious risks that must be addressed. While the cause of the Texas explosion is under investigation, we can take some common sense steps now to improve safety and security and build on Federal agencies’ ongoing work to reduce the risks associated with hazardous chemicals.
The Executive Order on Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security directs the Federal Government to:
Improving Operational Coordination with State and Local Partners
Federal, state, local, and tribal governments have different responsibilities in addressing risks associated with chemical facilities, including response planning for potential emergencies. To improve the effectiveness and efficiency of risk management and response measures, the Executive Order charges Federal agencies with improving coordination and information sharing with state and local governments. For example, the Executive Order requires Federal agencies to develop a plan within 90 days that identifies ways to ensure State homeland security advisors, State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs), Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs), State regulators, and first responders have ready access to key information in a useful format to prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical incidents.
Enhancing Federal Coordination and Information Sharing
Programs designed to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities through regulations, information reporting requirements, site inspections, and voluntary partnerships are managed by multiple Federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Justice (DOJ). To improve the collective performance of these Federal programs, the Executive Order calls upon Federal agencies to initiate innovative approaches for working together on a broad range of activities, such as identification of high-risk facilities, inspections, enforcement, and incident investigation and follow up. For example, the Executive Order requires that the Federal agencies deploy a regional pilot program that will validate best practices and test innovative new methods for Federal interagency collaboration on chemical facility safety and security. Additionally, Federal agencies are specifically directed to modernize the collection and sharing of chemical facility information to maximize the effectiveness of risk reduction efforts and reduce duplicative efforts.
Modernizing Policies, Regulations and Standards
The Executive Order directs Federal agencies to work with stakeholders to improve chemical safety and security through agency programs, private sector initiatives, Federal guidance, standards, and regulations. For example, to reduce risks associated with ammonium nitrate, agencies will examine new options to address the safe and secure storage, handling, and sale of this explosive chemical. Agencies will also determine if additional chemicals should be covered by existing Federal regulatory programs, such as EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP), DHS’s Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATs), and DOL’s Process Safety Management Standards (PSM). In addition, agencies will consider whether to pursue an independent, high-level assessment of the U.S. approach to chemical facility risk management to identify additional recommendations for all levels of government and industry to reduce the risk of catastrophic chemical incidents in the future.
Working with Stakeholders to Identify Best Practices
Many chemical facilities have taken steps to create safer work environments and reduce risks of chemical incidents to nearby communities. The Executive Order directs key Federal agencies to convene a wide range of interested stakeholders, including representatives from industry, state, local, and tribal governments, non-governmental organizations, and the first responder community, to identify and share successes to date and best practices to reduce safety and security risks in the production and storage of potentially harmful chemicals, including through the use of safer alternatives, adoption of best practices, and potential public-private partnerships.
Background on Federal Programs for Chemical Facility Safety and Security
Federal agencies implement a number of programs to help prevent chemical facility accidents, reduce risks of terrorist attacks on chemical facilities, protect chemical facility workers, collect and share relevant information with the public and decision makers, and prepare communities and local, tribal, and state first-responders to respond to potential large-scale accidents. State, local, and tribal authorities also have critical responsibilities in managing risks from chemical facility accidents through setting and enforcing requirements for zoning, siting, and emergency response and planning. The primary Federal agencies and programs aimed at addressing chemical safety and security at chemical facilities are summarized below:
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Department of Labor/Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD)
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/United States Coast Guard (USCG)
Department of Justice/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (DOJ/ATF)
 The Federal government also has a number of regulatory programs related to the safe and secure transportation of chemicals across all modes of transportation, including highway, rail, aviation, maritime, and pipeline. This fact sheet is focused on chemical safety and security at fixed facilities and does not address the programs focused on the transportation of hazardous materials.