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Attorneys general sue EPA over rollback of chemical safety rule

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Washington — Attorneys general of 14 states and the District of Columbia are suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Andrew Wheeler, in the latest round of litigation challenging the agency’s recent changes to the Obama-era Chemical Disaster Rule.

Filed Jan. 29 in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the lawsuit asks the court to vacate EPA’s Risk Management Program Reconsideration final rule, which went into effect Dec. 19, on the grounds that it is “unlawful.”

The new final rule eliminated various provisions of the Chemical Disaster Rule, which amended 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 Chemical Disaster Rule was finalized Jan. 13, 2017, but endured numerous delays before going into effect Feb. 19, 2019. The rule 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. In a Nov. 21 press release, EPA states 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.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James is listed as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. She is joined by counterparts from Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, as well as the City of Philadelphia.

 

“More than 9 million New Yorkers live, work and play in the shadow of facilities that store and use toxic chemicals,” James said in a Jan. 29 press release. “The Trump EPA is gutting critical safeguards against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases and other accidents at these facilities, putting New Yorkers in harm’s way. I am taking this fight to the courts, because every New Yorker deserves to live in a safe and healthy environment.”

United Steelworkers and a coalition of 13 environmental groups – represented by Earthjustice – have filed separate lawsuits over EPA’s changes to the Chemical Disaster Rule since the rule took effect. The District Court of Appeals on Jan. 8 filed an order that the petitions of USW and Earthjustice be consolidated.

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