The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to block an Obama administration regulation that would hold companies more accountable in the prevention of, and response to, chemical disasters, according to NPR. The regulation was set to go into effect in March of last year, until industry groups petitioned the EPA to stop the measure. While the rules had already been delayed, the agency said last month that it planned to block many of the measures permanently. However, that decision won’t be finalized until a public comment period is complete.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt has said the move will “reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, address the concerns of stakeholders and emergency responders on the ground, and save Americans roughly $88 million a year.”
However, at a hearing Thursday, officials heard impassioned counterarguments from groups who would be affected by the move, including residents, community activists, teachers, and emergency workers.
In reference to a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas, in which 15 responders died, the town’s mayor Tommy Muska told the Austin American-Statesman:
“With all due respect to Scott Pruitt, he’s never lost 15 firefighter friends. I’m as pro-business as anyone, but some things are way, way, way more important than too much regulation, and that includes the safety of these chemical plants.”
The rules would force companies to undergo third-part evaluations and perform regular investigations into whether improved technologies for prevention have become available.
For their part, industry representatives at the hearing on Thursday argued that they already have a profit incentive, in addition to other regulations in place, to prevent chemical disasters.
But in addition to the deaths in the 2013 incident, first responders at an incident at Arkema chemical plant, outside Houston, said they were exposed to toxic fumes in part due to local officials lacking information as to what chemicals were stored at the plant.
The measure would require companies to provide such information to local responders. The companies countered, in their petition to the EPA, that this requirement “could expose vulnerabilities to terrorists and others who may target refineries, chemical plants and other facilities.”
Yet, the chemical and oil industries have long opposed measures to require safer technology to minimize damage in the event of a terror attack.
California has implemented its own state-level regulations with many of the same requirements as the federal measure in question.
The EPA will take public comments until July 30th, with a final decision expected by the end of the year.
Mildred McClain, a community organizer who traveled to the DC hearing representing families living near industrial areas in Georgia, said:
“We’re just trying to protect ourselves. We’re just asking for information about the chemicals in our neighborhoods.”
If the EPA blocks the rules, according to McClain:
“The companies will just keep saying ‘I’m meeting the EPA standard’ while the community members are saying, ‘But we’re sick, we still smell stuff and we still don’t have a concrete plan as to what we’d do if there was a major disaster.’”