TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today called on the Trump Administration to abandon its plan to rescind chemical spill safety regulations previously adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and intended to better protect communities from accidental chemical releases and other chemical disasters. Attorney General Grewal expressed particular concern that the EPA’s proposal would harm lower-income areas.
In the wake of a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Tex. – a blast that measured 2.1-magnitude on the Richter scale and killed 15 people – the EPA finalized amendments to its Risk Management Program (RMP) that imposed stronger rules on how regulated companies stored dangerous chemicals and how they developed and implemented risk-management plans.
However, in May of this year, the Trump EPA announced a proposed Risk Management Program Reconsideration Rule, which ostensibly would preserve essential protections while reducing dispensable “regulatory burdens” on industry.
In a letter today to the EPA, Attorney General Grewal joined the Attorney General for New York and other Attorneys General from around the country in objecting to the agency’s plan, saying it will “largely eviscerate” important federal environmental safeguards, and is a “step backward” in preventing chemical-spill-related harm to the public – particularly in low-income areas.
“These safety rules exist for a reason,” said Attorney General Grewal. “They’re designed to protect our communities – and especially our lower-income communities – from the dangers of toxic chemical disasters. These rules are particularly important in New Jersey, where we are still recovering from a long history of industrial pollution. Once again, the EPA is trying to strip away environmental protections from the places where we need it most.”
”This is yet another egregious example of the Trump Administration’s misguided agenda of rolling back critical protections for public health and the environment,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “In New Jersey, we have long had in place tough laws to protect workers at facilities that use dangerous chemicals, the communities that surround them and emergency responders who must put their lives on the line. It is unconscionable for the President to place the lives of the American people at risk by stripping away similar protections on the national level.”
More than 90 regulated facilities in New Jersey are subject to the federal RMP rules, including chemical manufacturing plants, petroleum, chemical storage warehouses and other operations.
Among other points, the letter joined by Attorney General Grewal notes that millions of people residing in New York and New Jersey live within “vulnerability zones” situated near industrial facilities governed by EPA’s Risk Management Program rules.
According to studies, the multi-state letter notes, people who live in such vulnerability zones are “disproportionately susceptible to the consequences of chemical accidents – generally they have lower levels of educational attainment, have lower home values and experience poverty at a rate of 50 percent above the U.S. average.”
The letter goes on to say that, “People of color are also more likely to live in the vulnerability zones of chemical plants.”
“A strong federal Risk Management Program is critical to protect our residents from the grave dangers posed by chemical accidents at facilities in our states,” the letter asserts.
In March 2016, EPA published proposed amendments to its Risk Management Program. At the time, it expressed the belief that existing regulations had been effective in preventing and mitigating some chemical accidents, but also said that “revisions (to the RMP) could further protect human health and the environment from chemical hazards … based on lessons learned.”
Among the EPA rule amendments adopted less than a year later as “final” — but subsequently shelved and now targeted for rescission — is one that would require chemical plant owners to evaluate options for safer technology, as well as procedures that would mitigate chemical hazards.
Another amendment marked for elimination would require industrial operators to conduct a “root-cause analysis” following a catastrophic chemical release, or an incident that could have led to such a disaster.
The same amendment would also require companies to perform a third-party compliance audit after an accidental chemical release, or after the discovery of conditions that could lead to one.
The EPA’s proposed rescission would also scrap a prior requirement that chemical plants release information to the public about the types of chemicals they store, the types of procedures they have in place to mitigate risks, and provide the public details regarding their emergency response plans.
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