EPA’s Rollback of the Chemical Disaster Rule Eliminates Key Safety Measures
for Those Exposed to Explosions, Fires, Poisonous Gas Releases
9 Million New Yorkers Could be Affected
NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of 15 state attorneys general and the City of Philadelphia, today sued the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for gutting safeguards for those exposed to dangerous chemical accidents. Specifically, the coalition is challenging the Trump EPA’s rollback of Obama-era amendments to its “Risk Management Program” (RMP) regulations, referred to as the Chemical Disaster Rule. This rule made critical improvements to the RMP to better safeguard against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at facilities that store and use toxic chemicals.
“More than nine million New Yorkers live, work, and play in the shadow of facilities that store and use toxic chemicals,” said Attorney General James. “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.”
The Trump Administration’s EPA finalized a rule that rolls back critical elements of the Chemical Disaster Rule in December 2019, which eliminated safeguards in accident prevention programs designed to protect communities and prevent future accidents. These changes included the elimination of independent audits conducted by third-parties and “root cause” analyses following accidents, as well as analyses of safer technology and alternatives that could prevent or lessen harms from accidents. The EPA also cut back on training requirements and requiring facilities to share information with first responders and nearby communities on hazardous chemicals used on site.
In August 2018, a coalition of 12 attorneys general — led by the New York Attorney General’s Office — submitted extensive comments on the EPA’s proposed rollback of the Chemical Disaster Rule, arguing that the proposal, if adopted, would be “arbitrary and capricious” and “inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.” The coalition urged the EPA to heed the warning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the agency’s single-minded focus on industry costs of complying with the rule made a “mockery” out of the Clean Air Act.
Toxic chemical plants continue to have a potential for accidents that pose a serious danger to the public. In fact, since the attorneys general submitted supplemental comments on the proposed rule last summer, accidents at facilities regulated under the RMP have occurred across the country, causing deaths, injuries, and evacuations. For example, in November 2019, the massive explosions at the TPC Group chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas released toxic plumes of butadiene and other carcinogens into the air, injured at least eight people, and required the evacuation of over 60,000 residents from the surrounding communities.
According to publicly available data, 169 facilities covered by RMP regulations are located in New York, including Amrex Chemical (Binghamton), Arch Chemicals (Rochester), Durez Corp. (Niagara Falls), FMC Industrial Chemicals (Tonawanda), MPM Silicones (Waterford), International Paper (Ticonderoga), JCI Jones Chemicals (Warwick), Momentive Specialty Chemicals (South Glens Falls), PVS Chemical Solutions (Buffalo), Surpass Chemical (Albany), and Twin Lakes Chemical (Lockport).
The available data shows that more than 9.1 million people live within the “vulnerability zone” of RMP facilities in New York; vulnerability zones are the maximum possible area where a worst-case release of chemicals could harm people. A 2014 report by the Center for Effective Government (CEG) entitled “Kids in Danger Zones” found that New York had the fifth largest number of schools (2,210) and number of students (1,027,864 – 33 percent of all students) located in vulnerability zones.
The coalition’s petition for review was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Joining Attorney General James in the suit are the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the City of Philadelphia.
This matter is being handled by Attorney General James’ Environmental Protection Bureau by Special Assistant Attorney General Sarah K. Kam, Environmental Scientist John D. Davis, and Senior Counsel for Air Pollution and Climate Change Litigation Michael J. Myers — all of the Environmental Protection Bureau — under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Michael Colangelo. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, all under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.