Energy & Environment

Trump officials propose easing EPA chemical plant safety rule

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The Trump administration wants to roll back some parts of a major Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule meant to reduce the risks of chemical plant disasters.

The proposal to tweak the Risk Management Program rule aligns with the wishes of the chemical industry, which argued that the original January 2017 regulation from the Obama administration was too expensive and unnecessarily burdensome.

{mosads}“Accident prevention is a top priority at EPA, and this proposed rule will ensure proper emergency planning and continue the trend of fewer significant accidents involving chemicals,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a Thursday statement announcing the proposal.

“The rule proposes to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, address the concerns of stakeholders and emergency responders on the ground, and save Americans roughly $88 million a year.”

Thursday’s proposal would eliminate or ease some major pieces of the rule, including requirements that plant owners consider safer alternatives to various technologies, get third-party audits to check for compliance with accident prevention rules, conduct “root cause” analyses after incidents and disclose certain information to the community about operations.

Other big parts of the rule now have delayed implementation dates, like provisions on coordination with local emergency services and exercises for emergency situations.

The EPA argued that those changes, sought by industry groups and companies, would answer security concerns, reduce unnecessary regulatory costs and better align the standards with worker safety rules.

The $88 million estimated savings would come mostly from removing the requirement to consider safer alternatives, with other savings coming from eliminating audits and root-cause investigations.

The Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, which sent representatives to the EPA Thursday for a signing ceremony with Pruitt, cheered the proposal.

“We are pleased EPA has sought resolution of the major concerns with the RMP rule and look forward to working with the agency on other issues of mutual interest impacting the specialty and fine chemicals industry,” Robert Helminiak, the group’s vice president for government relations, said in a statement.

Emma Cheuse, an attorney with environmental group Earthjustice, called the rollback “shocking,” saying it ignored evidence of harm to first responders, adjacent communities and others.

“This move weakens safety measures and fails to protect the lives and health of the American people,” she said. “The EPA has no lawful or valid basis to undo the Chemical Disaster Rule, or to ignore that 177 million Americans face the constant threat of a chemical disaster.”

Since President Trump took office, the administration has delayed the chemical plant rule multiple times as it has worked on rollbacks.

Environmentalists and safety advocates sued the EPA last year over the delays, saying they have gone on too long. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in the case in March, and has not made a ruling.

The 2017 rule was the EPA’s chief response to the 2013 fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, which killed 15 people.

Green groups, Democratic state attorneys general and others have pledged to fight any attempt by the Trump administration to weaken the rule.

The Thursday proposal will soon be published in the Federal Register, kicking off a 60-day public comment period. Once the EPA analyzes those comments, it can make the rule final, at which point opponents could sue to stop it.

-Updated at 4:44 p.m.

Tags chemical safety Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt

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