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Court orders EPA to implement Obama chemical plant rule

Court orders EPA to implement Obama chemical plant rule
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A federal appeals court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to start enforcing a chemical plant safety rule that the Trump administration tried to delay.

In a brief order late Friday, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a motion from environmental groups to make the EPA start enforcing the risk management plan rule.

The order comes after the same court in August ruled that the Trump administration unlawfully delayed the rule written in the final days of the Obama administration.

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“Because EPA has not engaged in reasoned decisionmaking, its promulgation of the delay rule is arbitrary and capricious,” the court wrote, saying the EPA’s move to delay the rule’s implementation for more than 18 months “makes a mockery of the statute” and that “there is no textual basis for EPA’s current interpretation” of the law.

Usually the court would allow 52 days for the EPA to consider appealing the order and plan out how to implement the rule, which would have put it on Oct. 8. But the groups supporting the regulation argued that it can’t wait.

“Petitioners and the public have a strong interest in the court’s mandate issuing promptly, due to the serious and irreparable harm and imminent threats to public health and safety that EPA’s Delay Rule is causing,” they wrote in August.

The EPA and industry groups argued there was no compelling case to cut the 52 days short.

The agency said the part of the rule that would go into effect immediately requires “coordination between thousands of regulated parties and the local governments and emergency response entities in their specific locations, many of which require … guidance and clarity regarding their role and obligations in the coordination process.”

The waiting period “allows the agency a short but reasonable time to assess these issues and concerns,” the EPA wrote.

The regulation at issue seeks to prevent or mitigate disasters at chemical plants and similar facilities, through measures like increased communications and preparedness of local first responders, more transparency to the public and better investigations of incidents.

The appeals court initially granted the motion for the EPA to immediately enforce the rule earlier in September. But it quickly walked that back, saying the order was an error.

The EPA separately proposed in May  to repeal many of the major provisions of the chemical plant rule. The public comment period for that proposal ended in July, but the EPA has not yet made the proposal final.