TRENTON — Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal yesterday joined a coalition of fifteen attorneys general asking a federal appeals court to overturn the federal government’s recent rollback of key regulations that protect communities from plant explosions, accidental chemical releases and other chemical disasters.
Filed yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the coalition of Attorneys General is challenging the repeal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 Accident Prevention Amendments. Those 2017 changes imposed stronger rules on how regulated companies must store dangerous chemicals, and how those companies must develop and implement risk management plans.
In November of last year, the Trump EPA adopted a new final rule that rescinded the 2017 spill safety amendments over the objection of a number of Attorneys General, including Attorney General Grewal. The Administration also ignored subsequent “supplemental comments” from a group of Attorneys General, again including Attorney General Grewal, reiterating these concerns after a massive explosion and fire in June 2019 at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia.
“The federal government is supposed to be protecting us from dangerous chemical accidents, and but is once again falling down on the job,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This is not an abstract threat, as the explosion and fire in South Philadelphia last year made clear. I am proud to stand with my colleagues across the country in standing up to yet another deadly rollback coming out of EPA, especially one that is so important to the environmental justice communities living near these facilities.”
“For the sake of New Jersey and all states, we cannot afford to withdraw this valuable safety net. The Trump administration’s proposal to repeal these rules poses a direct threat to the health and safety of some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “The 2019 explosion in Philadelphia, just across the river from New Jersey, is a crystal-clear example of the danger posed by hazardous materials and the importance of the EPA’s 2017 Accident Prevention Amendments. New Jersey’s own Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act program currently provides even stronger protections than federal guidelines, and this shortsighted federal rollback has the potential to undermine our existing state protections.”
The 2017 EPA rule changes were triggered in large part by a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas four years earlier that had measured 2.1 magnitude on the Richter scale and killed 15 people. Among other things, the amendments required that regulated companies undergo independent audits in the wake of a chemical spill, explore safer technologies, and provide more detailed and timely investigative reports following chemical accidents.
By repealing the rules adopted in 2017, EPA has weakened federal risk management by undoing the requirement that chemical plant owners evaluate safer technologies and alternatives and implement procedures that would mitigate against chemical hazards. In addition, the states argue, the Administration has weakened federal accountability measures by tossing aside the requirement that companies engage in a third-party compliance audit following an accidental chemical release.
New Jersey is home to 94 facilities that are subject to the relevant federal risk management regulations — including chemical manufacturing plants, petroleum facilities, chemical storage warehouses and other operations. New Jersey has its own Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act program, but the State continues to have a strong interest in making certain the federal program is sufficiently protective.
The coalition includes the Attorneys General of the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.