Energy & Environment

Court throws out EPA delay of Obama chemical plant safety rule

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A federal court Friday threw out the Trump administration’s attempt to delay a chemical plant safety regulation written by the Obama administration. 

In a major blow to the Trump administration, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Clean Air Act forbids the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from delaying the regulation’s enforcement, as it tried to do in June 2017.

It is the second big court loss in as many days as President Trump’s EPA attempts to delay Obama administration rules, following a judge’s ruling Thursday that the agency improperly tried to delay President Obama’s Clean Water Rule.


It is the third loss for EPA deregulatory actions in just over a week, following another court’s ruling last week that the agency was wrong when it declined to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. 

“Because EPA has not engaged in reasoned decisionmaking, its promulgation of the delay rule is arbitrary and capricious,” the court wrote in its Friday opinion.

The judges said the EPA’s action “makes a mockery of the statute” and that “there is no textual basis for EPA’s current interpretation” of the law.

“By delaying the effective date, EPA has delayed compliance, reduced or eliminated the lead-up time to achieve the compliance that EPA had earlier found necessary, and thus has delayed life-saving protections.”

An EPA spokesman declined to comment on the ruling beyond saying that the agency is “reviewing” it.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood (D), one of the leading litigants opposing the Trump delay, cheered the court’s decision.

“Again and again, the Trump EPA has tried to push through policies that jeopardize our health and fly in the face of the law — and again and again, we’ve taken them to court and won,” Underwood said in a statement.

“This decision is a major victory for New Yorkers’ — and Americans’ — health and safety, ensuring that the EPA cannot put special interests first and block common sense protections against toxic chemical accidents.”

The Obama administration made the rule final a week before President Trump’s inauguration.

It set new standards for the risk management plans that chemical, manufacturing and similar facilities must write to mitigate explosions and other major incidents. It had provisions meant to prevent accidents, better incorporate lessons from them, increase information shared to local first responders and better inform the public about risks, among other pieces.

The regulation was one of the main takeaways of the 2013 chemical explosion in West, Texas, which killed 15 people.

Companies that operate the plants argued that the rule was unnecessarily costly and would put their plants at risk by exposing too much information about them.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt agreed. He acted last year to delay the rule — the decision at issue in Friday’s ruling — and proposed earlier this year to repeal many of its main provisions.

Environmental groups sued to stop the delay, arguing that it was illegal and dangerous.

Friday’s decision was written by Judge Judith Rogers, nominated by President Clinton; and Judge Robert Wilkins, an Obama nominee.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush nominee, participated in the case and heard oral arguments, but did not participate in the decision or dissent from it. Trump nominated Kavanaugh last month for the Supreme Court, and his confirmation is pending in the Senate.

Updated at 11:42 a.m.

Tags Courts Donald Trump EPA Obama era regulations Scott Pruitt
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