- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Sues EPA Over Rollback of Chemical Safety Protections
BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey today joined a coalition of 15 attorneys general and the City of Philadelphia in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its rollback of vital protections for communities near facilities that handle or house extremely dangerous chemicals, workers at those facilities, and local first responders who are called on to address emergencies.
“This rollback is another reckless move from an Administration that values industry profits and secrecy above American lives,” AG Healey said. “We are suing to protect the safety of Massachusetts residents, workers, and first responders.”
The lawsuit petitions the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to review EPA’s rollback of the Chemical Accident Safety Rule, arguing that the rollback is unlawful, arbitrary and capricious, and unsupported by facts. According to the lawsuit, the rollback violates the Clean Air Act, which requires EPA to issue regulations that “provide, to the greatest extent practicable, for the prevention and detection of accidental releases.”
Adopted in January 2017, the Chemical Accident Safety Rule made critical improvements to EPA’s regulations to safeguard against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at facilities that store or use extremely dangerous chemicals. The rule was adopted to address inadequacies the Obama Administration identified in its regulations after a 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company’s facility in Texas that killed 15 people. Among other things, the rule required facility owners and operators to develop a risk management plan to prevent chemical accidents. Those plans help local fire, police, and emergency response personnel prepare for and respond to chemical accidents and help the public better understand chemical hazards in their communities. The rule also strengthened federal regulations with additional requirements for emergency response procedures and public disclosure of chemical hazard information.
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. According to the EPA’s most recent five-year reports, accidents occurred at over 1,200 facilities. Those accidents resulted in 19 deaths, nearly 17,000 injuries, the evacuation of over 160,000 people, and more than $1.1 billion in property damage. Recent high-profile incidents include those at a South Philadelphia refinery in 2019 (five workers injured, estimated $1 billion in property damage), a Chevron refinery in California in 2012 (19 workers endangered, 15,000 people sought medical treatment), and the West Fertilizer facility in Texas in 2013.
In Massachusetts, there are 72 regulated facilities. Since 1995, there have been at least 11 chemical accidents at regulated facilities in Massachusetts, including two explosions 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, which leveled two dozen homes and six businesses.
In 2017, AG Healey was part of a coalition of 11 attorneys general that successfully sued EPA over the agency’s decision to delay — by at least 20 months — the date when facilities handling dangerous chemicals must comply with the Chemical Accident Safety Rule. At the request of a number of oil, gas, and chemical industry groups, the Trump Administration twice delayed the effective date of the rule. In August 2018, the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that EPA’s delay of the rule was illegal.
In May 2018, while the litigation around the delay was ongoing, EPA issued a proposal to roll back the rule. AG Healey was part of a coalition of attorneys general that submitted extensive comments in August 2018 opposing EPA’s proposal. The comments highlighted the coalition’s concern with the agency’s repeal of regulations requiring independent audits after a chemical spill, safer technology, and more detailed and timely investigations following explosions. The coalition urged EPA to heed the warning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in its ruling on the delay that the agency’s single-minded focus on industry compliance costs made a “mockery” out of the Clean Air Act. After the Philadelphia refinery explosion last summer, the coalition submitted supplemental comments again urging EPA to withdraw its unjustified proposal.
Joining AG Healey in filing today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of New York, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, as well as the City of Philadelphia.
This effort is being led in Massachusetts by Special Assistant Attorney General Megan Herzog and Christophe Courchesne, Chief of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division.