EPA requires industrial facilities to improve preparation for chemical discharges to water

Posted by Johann Nacario — April 19, 2024 — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized new safeguards for communities and the environment from facilities that EPA logostore and could discharge dangerous chemicals into a river, lake, or other body of water. These protections build on EPA’s recent issuance of the “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule,” which contains the strongest-ever safety provisions to prevent and address explosions and other accidental airborne releases from chemical facilities.

According to EPA, the science is clear: climate change can supercharge the risks of dangerous chemical releases. That is why both actions require facilities to evaluate those risks and to plan for and respond to such releases. Both actions also strengthen protections for communities already overburdened by pollution, because many regulated facilities have historically been located in or near these communities.

Clifford Villa, EPA deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management, stated:

As climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, planning and preparedness for these incidents are especially important. These new requirements will help protect the environment and communities by ensuring that facilities have planned for and can respond to worst-case discharges of hazardous substances, particularly in communities with environmental justice concerns, which are disproportionately located in proximity to industrial facilities.

These response plans are an important tool to ensure facilities are prepared to respond to a worst-case discharge of hazardous substances. The final rule requires various components to be included in the response plans, including hazard evaluation, personnel roles and responsibilities, response actions, and drills and exercises.

EPA anticipates that approximately 5,400 facilities will meet the criteria to submit a facility response plan. Additionally, the final rule provides a process for EPA Regional Administrators to assess facilities on a case-by-case basis and, if appropriate, to require a facility to develop a response plan based on, among other things, concerns related to potential impacts of a worst-case discharge on communities with environmental justice concerns.

In developing the final rule, EPA considered input received during the 120-day public comment period. The final rule revised the proposed criteria to lower the threshold quantity of Clean Water Act hazardous substances on site to more comprehensively screen for facilities that could cause substantial harm to the environment.

Regulated facilities are required to submit response plans to EPA within 36 months of the effective date of the rule. During this time, the agency is committed to conducting outreach and providing compliance assistance to the regulated community and implementing organizations to help them understand the requirements.

For more information on the final rule, see EPA’s Clean Water Act Hazardous Substance Facility Response Plans website.


Section 311(j)(5) of the Clean Water Act directs the President to issue regulations requiring a facility owner or operator of a facility to prepare and submit to the EPA a plan for responding, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst-case discharge, and to a substantial threat of such a discharge, of oil or a hazardous substance.

In 1994, EPA promulgated regulations for worst-case discharges of oil under 40 CFR part 112, subpart D. This action regulates worst-case discharges of Clean Water Act hazardous substances from onshore, non-transportation-related facilities under section 311(j)(5).