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Steelworkers sue EPA over changes to chemical safety rule

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Washington — United Steelworkers is suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, over the agency’s recent changes to the Obama-era Chemical Disaster Rule.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 7 in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, USW is petitioning the court to restore the original text of the rule. EPA’s Risk Management Program Reconsideration final rule, which took effect Dec. 19, eliminated various provisions intended to prevent future incidents at chemical facilities.

The Chemical Disaster Rule amends the Risk Management Program rule for chemical facilities with the intention of:

  • Preventing catastrophic incidents by improving incident prevention program requirements.
  • Enhancing emergency preparedness to ensure coordination between facilities and local communities.
  • Improving information access to help the public understand the risks at RMP facilities.
  • Improving third-party audits at RMP facilities.

The rule was finalized Jan. 13, 2017, but was delayed numerous times before it went into effect Feb. 19, 2019. It was prompted, in part, by an April 2013 explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, TX, that killed 15 people and injured more than 260 others.

EPA contends in a Nov. 21 press release that the RMP Reconsideration rule “modifies and improves the existing rule to remove burdensome, costly, unnecessary amendments while maintaining appropriate protections and ensuring first responders have access to all of the necessary safety information.”

USW’s petition comes after a similar lawsuit was filed by a coalition of 13 environmental groups – represented by Earthjustice – in December. “EPA has ‘amended’ the rule to eliminate virtually all disaster-prevention measures it established and weaken many other protections,” Earthjustice claims in a Dec. 19 press release.

 

“Eliminating these requirements will allow a profit-hungry industry to police itself while putting workers, first responders and the public at risk,” USW International President Tom Conway said in a Jan. 9 press release. “The USW spent years advocating for the Chemical Disaster Rule. Thousands of our members signed petitions imploring the EPA not to gut it. Now, we’re going to court to protect our members and our communities.”

The District Court of Appeals on Jan. 8 filed an order that the petitions of USW and Earthjustice be consolidated.

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