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November 21, 2019Release: EPA Touts Weakened Public Safety Measures Established Following West, TX Disaster

Trump Administration Rescinds Chemical Disaster Safety Rules, People Living Near Hazardous Facilities Respond


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced action to weaken the Risk Management Plan program (RMP) for chemical facilities that pose a risk of catastrophic explosion or poison gas release. The RMP program is a set of safety measures that seek to prevent and mitigate chemical disasters at over 12,000 high-risk industrial and commercial facilities across the nation. EPA estimates that over 177 million residents face daily risk of a chemical disaster emanating from one or more of these facilities.

The Trump Administration's changes to the RMP program announced today include:

  • Striking a requirement for "root cause" investigations of "near miss" incidents, where a facility narrowly avoided a catastrophic disaster. Information from these investigations was intended to prevent future disasters, but the EPA's revised rule no longer requires such investigations. 
  • Removing a requirement for third-party compliance reviews of facilities that had reportable chemical incidents. Under these new rules, facilities that experienced reportable chemical incidents will no longer be required to seek third-party audits to ensure compliance with the RMP program. 
  • Restricting public 'right to know' and community access to safety information. The RMP program already requires safety information to be made available to certain community managers (such as school administrators and hospital managers) but the new revisions announced today strike a requirement to make that information available to members of the public when requested.
  • Removing a requirement for the most dangerous industrial sectors to research ways they might improve safety. The reconsidered RMP program strikes a provision that would require facilities and industrial sectors with the worst safety records to consider safer technologies, chemicals, and processes, although they were not required to take any action to improve their safety based on these studies. 

This reconsideration of the RMP program rolls-back provisions that are broadly popular with fenceline communities, emergency responders, facility workers, and the general public, and were supported by over 150 public health, worker, environmental justice, and national security organizations. That risk of chemical disasters, which may have been prevented by these provisions, falls disproportionately on low-income and minority communities.


Following EPA’s decision, affiliates of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) responded:

"Once again, workers, communities of color, and low-income communities have been placed squarely in harm’s way by the Trump Administration," said Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA), a network of grassroots environmental justice organizations. "EPA’s own analysis demonstrated that our communities are at disproportionate risk of chemical disasters, on top of the many other toxic hazards we experience daily. Ignoring that evidence is further proof that this administration has no regard for the health and safety of workers and communities. This is environmental racism."

"Our community was part of the roll-out of the Risk Management Plans when the program was originally put in place," said Maya Nye, with People Concerned About Chemical Safety in Charleston, WV. "We have had countless disasters since then, including an incident that nearly eclipsed the Bhopal disaster right on the fenceline of a historically Black university. When that incident happened, the company refused emergency responders access to essential information to protect themselves and the public. Currently, we have 13 facilities within a 25-mile area of Kanawha Valley, and more are expected with the booming natural gas industry. The Risk Management Plan Program has proven, time and again, that it is inadequate at equitably protecting communities like ours that are already disproportionately burdened and experiencing multiple, cumulative exposures from chemical disasters. The 2017 amendments to RMP didn't do everything we needed to truly protect our communities, but the common-sense changes that are now being rolled-back may have saved lives in our community."

"This weakening of the Risk Management Plan Program is another example of how public policy caters to industry at the expense of communities of color," said Eboni Cochran, Co-Director of Rubbertown Emergency Action in Louisville, KY. "It is a clear example of why local governments must step up and have the courage to make policy that protects families and sets a clear path toward environmental justice for all. This roll-back is disappointing to those communities that have been fighting for years for policies that protect us. We are more than familiar with push-back from industry and decision-makers who are out of touch. However, we will remain diligent in our fight for justice until all of our decision-makers are working on behalf of what is safe for all communities."

"While the Federal Environmental Protection Agency says it is cutting 'burdensome, costly, unnecessary amendments,' as a person living in a fenceline community all I hear is that the administration is attempting to put profit over people once again," said Dulce Ortiz, Co-Chair of Clean Power Lake County in Illinois. "The model set by our current administration, of trading our lives like credits, must be challenged. Locally, in Illinois, the RMP program as it is now is not enough. In Illinois, we have experienced 60% cuts to our enforcement personnel at our Region 5 EPA. We need to have more information on our risk management plans–not less. We need to protect the residents a few hundred feet away from these facilities and stop using human life like commodities."

"As people of faith, we believe all administrations need to stand up and protect the health of workers and our communities," said Celeste Flores, Lake County, IL Outreach Director with Faith in Place. "These roll-backs of the Risk Management Plan does the opposite; they endanger communities that are already facing cumulative chemical impacts."

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Background Information:

The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) organizes industry reform strategies for safer chemicals and clean energy that leave no community or worker behind. Learn more about EJHA here: http://ej4all.org/

Contact: Eric Whalen; (971) 998-8786, ericwhalen@comingcleaninc.org

 

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