White House Unlawfully Blocking Chemical Safety Rule

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Trump administration’s decision to delay implementation of an Obama-era rule aimed at preventing major chemical disasters will unlawfully put innocent Americans at risk, several environmental groups claim in a federal lawsuit.

The Obama administration finalized the Chemical Disaster Rule under a provision of the Clean Air Act in December. The rule, which updates the standards for chemical plants and similar facilities, aims to help protect the workers and first responders from the risks of chemical fires and disasters.

But in March, the Trump administration delayed the effective date of the rule by 20 months to give it time to review, amend or simply toss it.

“In an abrupt reversal, EPA now unlawfully and irrationally proposes to delay the effective date of that rule by nearly two years on the pretext of an unjustified ‘reconsideration’ process,” the plaintiffs say in a complaint filed June 15 in federal court in Washington.

“This is one more in a series of delays recently initiated by the agency in a sweeping attempt to roll back and undermine important health, safety, and environmental protections for illegal reasons, without regard for other applicable legal and procedural requirements,” the complaint says.

The plaintiffs include the Air Alliance Houston, California Communities Against Toxics, Clean Air Council, Coalition For A Safe Environment, Community In-Power & Development Association, Del Amo Action Committee, Environmental Integrity Project, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“Now they’re doing a 180 and saying, ‘Hold on, stop the presses, we’re not going to implement these protections after all,’” said Gordon Sommers of Earthjustice in the District of Columbia, who represents the plaintiffs. “This is basically saying, ‘We want to nullify this rule for close to two years so we can do a new rulemaking.’ They’re basically ignoring everything the agency already studied and concluded.”

The delay represents a reversal of the agency’s original position, Sommers continued. “They spent three years identifying this problem. They worked with Homeland Security, the public, and came up with very tailored solutions to the problem they identified … to prevent chemical disasters and modernize this country’s chemical safety regulation,” he said.

“The problem for my clients is they’re among the people who will be impacted,” Sommers continued. “They will be hurt and killed because of these kind of disasters. Their lives are being disrupted by explosions and fires that are happening at these facilities. The people on the front lines – the first responders and the people at these facilities – are not the people that the EPA is now listening to.”

A representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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