Agencies mum on delayed plant review

A federal review of chemical safety regulations in response to April’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion in Texas is more than a month overdue, with no clear completion date in sight. 

President 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 made up of top-level officials from a variety of federal agencies.

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The panel, led by the secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor, along with the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was tasked with overseeing the effort. 

An executive order issued by Obama gave the agencies 90 days — until Nov. 1 — to identify measures to improve plant safety.

But the effort was delayed by the federal government shutdown. Though the shutdown lasted 16 days, the EPA said that due to the stoppage, the task force planned on an update a month later, in early December.

In a statement on behalf of the working group, the EPA said Tuesday that the shutdown had forced agencies to reschedule outreach efforts that would “help inform the working group's deliverables.”

“Agencies continue to work expeditiously on this important effort, and hope to have an update soon,” the EPA said on behalf of the working group.

The agency did not say when that might be, and efforts to obtain comment from the Homeland Security Department and the Labor Department were unsuccessful.

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