A coalition of community members, the National Environmental, Environmental Justice and Groups of Scientists from across the U.S.A asked Andrew Wheeler, the Acting Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw the agency’s plan to roll back the implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule.
The Obama-era Chemical Disaster Rule was made to reduce chemical disaster risks at over 10,000 facilities nationwide. The rule was the EPA’s countermeasure to chemical disasters like the 2013 explosion that killed 15 people at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas.
The groups called on EPA’s Acting Administrator because the agency is still considering its proposal on May 30 after the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled as unlawful on August 17, the EPA’s 20-month delay of implementing the rule.
EPA’s May 30 proposal would permanently repeal the regulation’s prevention measures. EPA’s proposal will also weaken and further delay emergency response coordination and community information requirements.
So far, the Trump administration has suffered three Federal court losses in its attempt to erase not only much of former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy but the other longer-standing rules as well.
The court emphasized that the law restricts EPA’s authority to delay implementation of chemical safety regulations approved during the Obama administration while under reconsideration.
In South Carolina, the federal district court also ruled against the delay by the Trump administration of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS). After the court decision, the 2015 Clean Water Rule is enforced in 26 states. District court injunctions prevent the enforcement of the rule in 24 states.
According to representatives from national non-profits and community groups, EPA’s proposal to delay the implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule would deprive the various communities nationwide of crucial protection against chemical-related disasters.
So far, continuing evidence shows that protections against chemical disasters are needed. Recent examples of chemical disasters are the explosions at Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas while it was down due to floodwater caused by Hurricane Harvey (August 2017) and the series of explosions and fires at the Husky Energy Oil Refinery in Superior, Wisconsin (April 2018).
Millions of Americans live in areas vulnerable to the hazards from a chemical plant.
The Chemical Disaster Rule provides the necessary improvements to the EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) that is part of the Clean Air Act.
It includes steps and requirements that would prevent and reduce the possibility of deaths and injuries resulting from chemical exposures to hazardous releases when chemical disasters happen. The rule also aims to strengthen prevention, emergency preparedness as well as coordination with local first responders like public health professionals, firefighters and access to information.
The rule was developed considering that prior protections did not prevent more than 2,200 chemical accidents around the country in a span of 10-years including about 150 annually that resulted to reportable harm. Prior to the federal court decisions, the EPA had not implemented the rule since March 2017. EPA delayed the implementation in response to the petitions by industry trade associations.
Following the court decision and looking at the approaching anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of the Center for Science and Democracy, Andrew Rosenberg, called on chemical facilities to be better prepared to safeguard the communities where they conduct their operations.
In the 20 months that the EPA delayed the Chemical Disaster Rule, at least 58 chemical releases, explosions and accidents were reported across the country according to the environmental law firm, Earthjustice. However, EPA continued to ignore the reports and still wanted to “reconsider” the rule.
Gordon Sommers, an attorney at Earthjustice, issued a statement that the government cannot pull out “critical safety rules based on political whim” because people’s lives should be the priority.
Sommers added that while the court’s decision to stop the delay in enforcing the Chemical Disaster Rule is a big victory, their groups will still have to ensure that the rule will be swiftly and fully implemented.
Aside from Sommers’ statement, some members of the communities and various groups also issued the following comments:
1. Yvette Arellano from Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services said that since Texas is where the nation’s largest petrochemical complex is located, there is a high probability of another record-breaking disaster yearly. Her group is expecting EPA to implement the Chemical Disaster Rule because preventative measures as required in the rule are vital for making plans for the coming disasters. She said that their lives depend on the full implementation of the rule.
2. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment President Dr. Brian Moench warned of the “50% chance of a major earthquake at the center of the most populated part of Utah in the next 50 years.” He pointed out that in case of an earthquake, the five refineries in the state would be possible sources of catastrophic chemical releases. He said that it “would be unconscionable for the EPA to withdraw the protections” included in the Chemical Disaster Rule.
3. According to the Director, Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Dr. Andrew Rosenberg said that they cannot allow the Trump administration to dismantle the rules developed to protect communities from the effects of chemical disasters. The EPA needs to consider the inputs from the affected communities and provide strong, science-based protection for public health.