Shutdown delays Obama’s chemical safety review

President Obama’s push to shore up the nation’s chemical safety regulations in response to April’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion in Texas has been delayed for at least a month by the government shutdown, officials acknowledged Friday.

Obama on Aug. 1 ordered a government-wide review of chemical safety policies on the books, and established a new Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group composed of top-level officials from a variety of federal agencies.

The panel is jointly chaired by the secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor, along with the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and was tasked with overseeing the effort.

An executive order (EO) issued by Obama gave the agencies 90 days — until Thursday — to identify measures to improve plant safety, but the effort has been delayed by the shutdown.

“Due to the lapse in appropriations and the need to reschedule stakeholder outreach efforts, agencies participating in the chemical facility EO working group have been given additional time to submit some deliverables,” the EPA said Friday in a written response to questions.

“Agencies are working on revising deadlines, as needed,” according to the agency’s statement.  “The working group plans to provide an update on overall progress in early December.”

The update will give an overview of efforts to increase safety through an array of mandates laid out in the executive order.

Specifically, the order tasks agencies to improve cooperation with state and local regulators and take steps to enhance cooperation between federal offices charged with overseeing chemical and safety issues. 

The order calls for modernized regulations and new standards for the storage and security of dangerous substances.

Fifteen people were killed in the West, Texas, explosion, which has been linked to the volatile chemical ammonium nitrate.