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May 26, 2021

EPA’s New Path to Prevent Chemical Disasters is an Important First Step

Communities facing constant chemical disasters deserve robust protections

Contacts

Erin Fitzgerald, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org 

Washington, D.C.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will hold virtual public listening sessions as a first step to consider improvements to the Clean Air Act Risk Management Program (RMP) to better address the impacts of climate change on facility safety and protect communities from chemical accidents, including vulnerable and overburdened communities living near RMP facilities.

For years, fenceline communities along with the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, called attention to this problem and under the Obama-Biden administration, EPA held a multi-year evaluation and public comment process. In early 2017, EPA created a set of safety measures, known as the Chemical Disaster Rule, in the wake of several deadly explosions and major chemical releases at industrial facilities, like petroleum refineries and chemical manufacturers. Before those measures took effect, however, EPA flipped to delay those protections. A coalition of fenceline community groups, states, and the United Steelworkers won a case in which a federal court called EPA’s delay of life-saving measures a “mockery” of the law in 2018. The next year, the Trump administration rescinded the core prevention measures in this rule, despite mounting evidence of the danger communities face from chemical disasters.

Earthjustice and its clients across the country have been fighting for years to strengthen these protections including in a pending case opposing the Trump rollback of the Chemical Disaster Rule. In the United States, 177 million people live in the worst-case scenario zone for a chemical catastrophe, and over 100 hazardous fires, explosions or other harmful chemical incidents occur at industrial facilities every year, on average, in the U.S., according to EPA data. EPA invites communities and all stakeholders to participate in the virtual listening sessions and provide information orally on June 16 and July 8, or in writing at regulations.gov through July 15, 2021.

The following statement is from Emma Cheuse, the Earthjustice attorney leading the case: 

“After four long dangerous years, it is refreshing to see the Biden administration and Administrator Regan take an important first step toward fulfilling their vital promises on public health and environmental justice. Today’s notice gives hope to everyone standing with fenceline communities living under the constant threat of fires, explosions, and toxic releases from industrial chemical facilities. This threat is particularly salient in places like the Gulf, where people face double disasters as facilities such as refineries and other chemical facilities often fail to prepare effectively for hurricanes and other extreme weather exacerbated by climate change.

“Holding virtual listening sessions will allow people across the United States affected by chemical disasters to have a voice in EPA’s rulemaking from the start. Starting now, and at every step of this new rulemaking, it will be essential for EPA to prioritize the safety of fenceline communities, and to follow the science and the latest research on the problem and solutions. The longstanding experience of communities, supported by a wealth of data, shows the urgent need for EPA to jumpstart action on a robust, new Chemical Disaster Rule 2.0 that will finally prevent these avoidable tragedies.”

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