Court rules against EPA’s stalling of new chemical safety regulations
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received a lot of negative coverage lately due to the antics of the agency’s former head, Scott Pruitt, and the EPA’s historic role in reversing decades of environmental regulations, such as car emissions standards and the Endangered Species Act.
While it’s not the most ecologically enlightened time period, there’s good news out there for people who fight for cleaner environmental standards. For example, last week the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the EPA’s efforts to block implementation of new chemical plant safety rules by 20 months.
These safety rules emerged from a terrible incident that we don’t need to repeat.
On April 17, 2013, West, Texas’ West Fertilizer Company had a fire that led to a huge explosion registering as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake. "A total of 15 people died in the blast, including the 12 volunteer first responders. Two-hundred sixty people were injured, and 150 buildings in the vicinity were damaged. Half of them, including two schools, had to be demolished," according to The Washington Post.
Because "80,000 to 100,000 pounds of unsafely stored fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate" caused the explosion, the Obama-era EPA rightfully responded with new rules covering flammable chemical storage and companies’ risk-management plans. The post-West rules "...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 rules were set to go into effect in June 2017, but the EPA held them up — seeking almost a two-year delay on the rules. Now more than a year later, we have a ruling against the EPA and for improved chemical safety standards.
This good news comes in the wake of ongoing talk that the Trump administration wants to eliminate the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency with an $11 million budget that investigates chemical accidents.
Since the U.S. has 1,000 major industrial chemical accidents annually, this agency may under the radar, but it provides an important public service.
Two examples of Chemical Safety Board accident investigations include no less than BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and the 2014 West Virginia chemical spill that contaminated drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents. These were not small spills, but major national news.
The court ruled that the EPA’s stalling of new chemical safety rules violates the Clean Air Act; this ruling implicitly values the Chemical Safety Board’s important public health and environmental function.
EPA deregulation efforts hit other obstacles last week. An attempt to delay an Obama-era clean water (Waters of the United States or WOTUS) rule was blocked in a South Carolina U.S. district court. Also, a federal appeals court upheld the urgent need to ban chlorpyrifos — a toxic pesticide linked to children’s health problems — despite the EPA’s efforts to keep the pesticide circulating through our food.
Added up together, last week’s small legal victories reveal that public safety and environmental health issues may remain contentious and embattled, but they are far from determined in advance.
Citizen advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, independent researcher centers, and law firms are joining together to challenge pro-industry deregulation efforts that hamper decades of environmental progress and risk poisoning the atmosphere with unclean air and water, and unsafe food.
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