The attorneys general from 11 states – New York, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have signed on to a lawsuit filed July 24 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that claims EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed two-year delay of the Accidental Release Prevention Requirements for Risk Management Programs under the Clean Air Act, Section 112(r)(7), (the Chemical Accident Safety Rule) that were finalized by the Obama administration on Jan. 13 is illegal because it exceeds EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act.
Led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the lawsuit claims the Chemical Accident Safety Rule makes critical improvements to congressionally-mandated protections against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases and other accidents at more than 12,000 facilities across the country – including over 200 in New York – that store and use toxic chemicals.
“Protecting our workers, first-responders and communities from chemical accidents should be something on which we all agree. Yet the Trump EPA continues to put special interests before the health and safety of the people they serve,” said Schneiderman. “It’s simply outrageous to block these common-sense protections – and attorneys general will keep fighting back when our communities are put at risk.”
According to EPA, in the last 10 years, there have been over 1,500 accidents at chemical plants, including 30 in New York. Nationally, these accidents caused 58 deaths; required 17,099 people to seek medical treatment; caused almost 500,000 people to be evacuated or sheltered-in-place; and cost over $2 billion in property damage. High-profile incidents included those at BP Refinery in Texas in 2005 (15 people killed, 170 injured), Chevron Refinery in California in 2012 (19 workers endangered, 15,000 people sought medical treatment), Tesoro Refinery in Washington in 2010 (seven people killed), West Fertilizer Facility in Texas in 2013 (15 people killed), and Williams Olefins Plant in Louisiana in 2013 (two workers killed, many injured).
The coalition of attorneys general is challenging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent delay of the rule by an additional 20 months as exceeding EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, and as arbitrary and capricious.
On Jan. 13, the Obama administration finalized the Chemical Accident Safety Rule to update “Risk Management Plan” regulations mandated by Congress in 1990 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act. The amended rules would necessitate additional safeguards in accident prevention programs to protect communities and prevent future accidents – requiring root cause analyses and third-party audits following accidents, as well as analyses of safer technology and alternatives; emergency response procedures, mandating annual coordination with local first responders, annual notification drills, and periodic field exercises; and increased public access to facility chemical hazard information, in addition to public meetings within 90 days of an incident.
Despite Pruitt’s delay of the rule, EPA published a June 2017 fact sheet explaining how these improvements “will help protect local first responders, community members, and employees from death or injury due to the chemical facility accidents.”
The more than 12,000 facilities covered by the regulations include chemical manufacturers, petroleum refineries, pulp and paper mills, chemical and petroleum wholesalers and terminals, wastewater treatment plants, agricultural chemical distributors, midstream gas plants and food storage facilities with ammonia refrigeration systems.
When adopted, the rule’s effective date was March 14. Facilities were provided one year from the effective date to comply with the emergency response procedures, and four years to implement the accident prevention program and public information disclosure requirements. EPA determined that this lead-time was necessary for facility operators to understand and implement the rule’s provisions.
Soon after the Chemical Accident Safety Rule was finalized, a number of oil and gas and chemical industry associations and companies – including the American Chemistry Council, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute – petitioned the Trump administration to reconsider the rule. Pruitt subsequently granted these requests and delayed the rule’s effective date for 90 days.
On June 12, EPA announced that Pruitt further delayed the Chemical Accident Safety Rule’s effective date for an additional 20 months until Feb. 19, 2019. “We are seeking additional time to review the program, so that we can fully evaluate the public comments raised by multiple petitioners and consider other issues that may benefit from additional public input,” said Pruitt of the delay.
According to Schneiderman, the Trump administration’s decision to delay the rule for almost two years directly contradicts the June 2017 EPA fact sheet, which outlines the pressing need for the rule. The 20-month delay would extend the date at which chemical facilities must comply with the rule’s emergency response requirements to 2020, and with its accident prevention program and public information disclosure requirements to 2023.