A federal appeals court rejected an attempt by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to fine Tampa Electric Co. over the utility’s response to an ammonia release at a power plant in 2017. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said Tampa Electric did not violate a safety regulation when workers responded to the release without wearing breathing apparatuses. OSHA sought to impose a $9,054 fine over the incident at a power plant in Apollo Beach. The U.S. Department of Labor, which includes OSHA, took the case to the appeals court after an administrative body known as the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission sided with Tampa Electric. Wednesday’s opinion centered on whether workers took part in an “emergency response” to an “uncontrolled release” of ammonia. If they undertook such an emergency response, they would have been required to wear the protective gear. But the appeals court concluded that the release was controlled. “Due to the myriad ways in which a release may occur, we doubt the existence of a bright-line rule for determining when a release is uncontrolled,” said the 10-page decision, written by Judge Kevin Newsom and joined by Judges Gerald Tjoflat and Ed Carnes. “Here, though, we are satisfied that Tampa Electric designed a response system to manage when, how, and to what extent ammonia would be emitted in the event of a pipe overpressurization and thereby adequately ‘controlled’ the release.”

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