- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Sues EPA Over Delay of Rule to Reduce Risk of Chemical Accidents
Boston — Attorney General Maura Healey Monday joined a coalition of 11 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to challenge its unlawful decision to delay a rule that provides vital protections for communities that live near facilities that handle or house extremely dangerous chemicals, workers at those facilities, and local first responders who are called on to address emergencies at the facilities.
“This is yet another outrageous decision by Administrator Scott Pruitt that puts industry interests ahead of the health and safety of our residents, workers, and first responders,” said AG Healey. “We will continue to take actions to hold the EPA accountable and ensure that we are protecting the public from chemical accidents.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, challenges the EPA’s recent decision to delay – by at least 20 months – the date when these facilities must comply with January 2017 regulations that strengthen risk management practices.
The delayed rule, which implements the federal Risk Management Program under the federal Clean Air Act, requires owners and operators of these facilities to develop a risk management plan to prevent explosions, fires, and releases of poisonous gases, and other accidental releases at facilities that use or store dangerous chemicals. Such plans help local fire, police and emergency response personnel prepare for and respond to chemical accidents. The 2017 rule that EPA seeks to delay made important updates to the Risk Management Program, including additional safeguards in accident prevention programs, emergency response procedures, and public disclosure of chemical hazard information.
According to the EPA, in the last 10 years, there have been more than1,500 accidents at chemical plants, including 15 in Massachusetts at nine regulated facilities that handle dangerous chemicals. Nationally, these accidents caused 58 deaths; 17,099 people to be injured or seek medical treatment; almost 500,000 people to be evacuated or sheltered-in-place; and 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 more injured).
Massachusetts itself is not immune from high profile and harmful chemical explosions such as the one in recent years at Dow Chemical’s facility in North Andover, and the 2006 explosion at CIA Inc. and Arnel Company, Inc.’s ink and paint manufacturing facility in Danvers that leveled two dozen homes.
The number and severity of accidents over the last decade caused the Obama Administration to evaluate the need to update existing regulations to reduce the number and frequency of dangerous accidents at the nation’s chemical facilities. After a careful review of the facts and public comments, on Jan. 13, 2017, the Obama administration finalized the Chemical Accident Safety Rule to update those regulations (known as the “Risk Management Plan” regulations), which are required by 1990 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act. The now delayed amended rules would require additional safeguards in accident prevention programs to protect communities and prevent future 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. There are 125 facilities in Massachusetts covered under the rule including waste water treatment plants, oil and gas terminals and manufacturers and distributors of chemicals and consumer products.
When adopted, the rule’s effective date was March 14, 2017.
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 EPA to reconsider the rule. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt subsequently granted these requests and delayed the rule’s effective date for 90 days.
On June 14, 2017, Administrator Pruitt further delayed the Chemical Accident Safety Rule’s effective date for an additional 20 months until Feb. 19, 2019. 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, and the dramatic safety benefits of, 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.
Signing on to today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.