Today, community members from across the country called on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to withdraw EPA’s proposal to roll back the Chemical Disaster Rule. On Friday, August 17, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s 20 month delay of that rule was unlawful. But EPA is still considering its May 30 proposal to rescind the rule’s prevention measures permanently and to weaken and further delay emergency response coordination and community information requirements.
Representatives from community groups and national non-profits argued that EPA’s proposal would leave communities around the country without vital protections against chemical disasters, even while evidence continues to mount showing the need for these protections against chemical spills, fires, and explosions like those that have occurred during the last year at industrial plants like Arkema (August 27, 2017), and Husky Energy (April, 26, 2018).
The Chemical Disaster Rule includes much-needed improvements to the EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) under the Clean Air Act, and would prevent and reduce the likelihood of chemical disasters, hazardous releases, and resulting deaths, injuries, and chemical exposures, by strengthening prevention requirements, emergency preparedness and coordination with local first responders like firefighters and public health professionals, and community access to information. When developing the rule, the EPA determined that prior protections failed to prevent over 2,200 chemical accidents around the country during a 10-year period, including about 150 per year that caused reportable harm. Prior to Friday’s decision, the EPA had been delaying implementation of the rule since March 2017 based on petitions from industry trade associations. During the delay, public reporting has shown over 61 chemical releases, fires, and explosions have occurred at covered facilities. So far EPA has ignored all recent incidents and still says it wants to “reconsider” the rule.
Gordon Sommers, an attorney with Earthjustice made the following statement:
“The court’s decision to end the delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule is a tremendous victory, but there is still work to be done. Now we have to ensure the rule gets implemented fully and swiftly. EPA needs to stop trying to roll back critical public health protections.”
The attached comments were submitted by: Air Alliance Houston, California Communities Against Toxics, Clean Air Council, Clean Wisconsin, Coalition For A Safe Environment, Colorado Latino Forum, Coming Clean, Community In-Power & Development Association, Del Amo Action Committee, Environmental Integrity Project, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, People Concerned About Chemical Safety, Sierra Club, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Union of Concerned Scientists, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Western Resource Advocates.
All comments are or soon will be available in the public docket.
Comments from Community Members and Groups:
- Yvette Arellano, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services: “Our communities are vulnerable. There is no doubt, when schools and homes are nestled next to chemical facilities the danger is ever-present. We are home to the largest petrochemical complex in the nation and 52 miles of communities live in these conditions. Hurricane Harvey revealed the harm people can face without these common sense measures and every year there is potential for another record-breaking disaster, not just here but in the entire nation. Preventative measures are vital to help us plan for the next disaster. We are relying on EPA to implement the Chemical Disaster Rule because our lives depend on it.”
- Anne Rolfes, Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade: “The attempt to delay the chemical safety rule is a pathetic display of greed and self indulgence by the chemical industry. The chemical industry believes it is above the law — even the most basic laws designed to protect workers. Rather than comply with a reasonable rule, they are trying to get rid of it, and they are being aided and abetted by the Trump administration.”
- Dr. Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston: “Houston area residents who have suffered the health impacts of air pollution from disasters like Harvey and who live with daily, chronic stress from the risks to their health and safety from hazardous facilities deserve better. We owe it to them to make sure we do all we can to prevent chemical accidents. The EPA’s attempt to rescind a rule that offers communities, including first responders, stronger protections from these threats is not just unfair, it is also dangerous and negligent.”
- Dr. Brian Moench, President, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment: “There’s a 50% chance of a major earthquake at the center of the most populated part of Utah in the next 50 years. The five refineries in that area would be likely sources of catastrophic chemical releases in that event, risking the lives and health of millions of people. It would be unconscionable for the EPA to withdraw the protections of the Obama administration intended to reduce those risks.”
- Susan Hedman, Of Counsel, Clean Wisconsin: “The Husky Refinery explosion in Superior, Wisconsin was a stark reminder of the need to prevent chemical disasters and the importance of emergency planning that involves local communities. EPA should be actively implementing these critical safeguards — not proposing a rollback.”
- Vivian Stockman, Vice Director, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition: “Ditching prevention measures and weakening provisions aimed at better safeguarding emergency responders is unconscionable for an agency that is supposed to be about environmental protection and a country whose system of government is supposed to be by, of, and for the people.”
- Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter: “Trump’s EPA is proving they’ll do anything to put industry profit over people’s lives, even if it means going over our justice system to do so. My home state of Texas has a long dark history of disasters at industrial facilities resulting in the tragic loss of life and devastating injuries to plant workers. The Chemical Disaster Rule is absolutely critical and needs to be fully implemented to protect our communities and public health.”
- Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, Director, Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists: “We cannot let the Trump administration tear down the rules protecting communities from chemical disasters. The people living on the fence lines of chemical facilities understand what’s at stake here — the EPA needs to listen to these communities and do its job. We need strong, science-based safeguards that put public health first.”