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March 21, 2024USEPA Rolls Out Rule to Address Worst-Case Chemical Disasters, Impacting Thousands of Facilities 

After Years of Litigation and Advocacy, EPA's Rule Incorporates Climate Change and EJ Protections, but Calls for More Robust Policies Remain

Press Release


Ivan Moreno, NRDC,, 773-799-6455

Deidre Nelms, Coming Clean,, 802-251-0203 ext. 711

Sean Jackson, Clean Water Action,


WASHINGTON (March 21, 2024) -- The EPA unveiled today significant protections against worst-case hazardous chemical discharges, following years of advocacy and litigation by environmental justice groups and frontline communities. This regulation, which is more than thirty years overdue, fills critical gaps in the nation's environmental safety net, requiring facilities to develop comprehensive plans to prepare for and respond to worst-case chemical discharges near waterways. 

"EPA's worst-case discharge rule correctly recognizes chemical disasters as both an environmental justice and a climate issue,” said Jared Knicley, Managing Litigator with NRDC’s Litigation Team. “The rule's elevation of those issues as central, organizing principles for environmental protection should be a blueprint for all future regulations."

The rule addresses a critical vulnerability in the protection of the country's waterways and communities. Thousands of facilities that manufacture, use and store some of the most dangerous chemicals brush up against waterways or are in flood-prone areas. The new policy comes after numerous disasters affecting drinking water supplies, wildlife habitats, and environmental justice communities that experience the brunt of extreme weather supercharged by climate change. 

“We are thankful that this administration is finally taking long overdue action to protect workers and communities against chemical disasters. Communities of color and the poor, who are experiencing the worst of the climate crisis, are also on the front lines of the fight against policies that permit billions of pounds of pollution and concentrate the most dangerous industries in our communities” said Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA). “While we’re glad to see this rule taking steps in the right direction, we will continue to call on EPA to truly prevent disasters by transitioning away from inherently dangerous chemicals and processes as outlined in the Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals.” 

The final rule mandates that many of this country’s most dangerous chemical facilities near waterways must prepare Facility Response Plans, which critically must account for the impacts of climate change and potential harms to nearby environmental justice communities. The final rule covers more facilities than EPA’s proposal would have, after changes EPA made in response to comments from EJHA, Coming Clean, Clean Water Action, and NRDC. The rule also allows people in frontline communities to petition the EPA if they believe a nearby facility that has not prepared a response plan should have to do so. 

"Increasingly active hurricane seasons and other climate impacts in our region significantly heighten the risk of hazardous-related disasters along the 52-mile industrialized Houston Ship Channel. In their discharge of toxic runoff, petrochemical industries jeopardize our waterways and our health”, said Deyadira Arellano of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. “Following Hurricane Harvey, ITC, and Shell Deer Park disasters, we’re glad EPA is finally recognizing the double threat that climate change and chemical releases pose to our families, but we need the EPA to further strengthen federal protections for our life-bearing waterways, including by requiring facilities to switch away from the toxic chemicals and processes that necessitate secrecy and ‘facility response plans’ in the first place.”

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey, which struck Houston’s dense zone of flood-susceptible facilities storing hazardous substances, caused numerous facilities to release harmful chemicals, harming first responders, the surrounding community, and the environment. A few years earlier, a leak at a chemical storage facility along the Elk River in West Virginia left 300,000 people with contaminated drinking water for months.

“The rule continues the administration’s efforts to protect the frontline communities that have long been forgotten and put at risk from regulatory gaps. These improvements will protect a great deal more facilities than EPA’s proposal, and extend lasting protections to the communities in the most dire need of protection,” said Sean Jackson, National Water Campaigns Coordinator at Clean Water Action. “But there is still room for improvement. EPA needs to ensure adequate information sharing of facility response plans, with special attention given to public water utilities so that they may respond and work in conjunction with facilities if a discharge occurs. And EPA needs to make sure this information is available to the broader public, so people better understand the risks from facilities in their communities.”

The final rule is the culmination of years of advocacy by environmental justice and public-health groups, including a 2019 lawsuit brought by the EJHA, Clean Water Action, and NRDC that resulted in a settlement requiring EPA to issue its rule by this year. Although the rule is an important milestone, more robust prevention measures are needed.

“Building on this momentum, EPA must expand the list of covered substances under the Clean Water Act,” said Maya Nye, member of People Concerned About Chemical Safety.  “Notably, the final rule will exempt facilities that store thousands of other toxic chemicals not on this list, including the coal processing chemicals that contaminated the community water supply in the Elk River disaster. EPA should also require safer chemicals and processes to eliminate the need for facility response planning and secrecy in the first place.”

Despite these challenges, the EPA's new rule is a significant step forward in the agency's commitment to safeguarding the nation's waters and communities from the threat of disastrous hazardous chemical discharges. 



Coming Clean is a nonprofit environmental health collaborative working to transform the chemical industry so it is no longer a source of harm, and to secure systemic changes that allow a safe chemical and clean energy economy to flourish. Our members are organizations and technical experts — including grassroots activists, community leaders, scientists, health professionals, business leaders, lawyers, and farmworker advocates — committed to principled collaboration to advance a nontoxic, sustainable, and just world for all. 

The Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA)  is a national network of grassroots Environmental and Economic Justice organizations and advocates in communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals from legacy contamination, ongoing exposure to polluting facilities and health-harming chemicals in household products. EJHA supports a just transition towards safer chemicals and a pollution-free economy that leaves no community or worker behind.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing, and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at and follow us on X @NRDC.

People Concerned About Chemical Safety (PCACS) is a volunteer-based grassroots organization in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. PCACS is dedicated to the protection of health and safety of all who reside, work, and study in the vicinity of local chemical plants. PCACS serves as a watchdog to hold companies accountable and to uphold environmental and chemical safety regulations through education, community organizing, and advocacy within the Kanawha Valley community. PCACS is an affiliate of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform.

Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.e.j.a.s) is a grassroots organization based in Houston, TX. T.e.j.a.s is dedicated to providing community members with the tools necessary to create sustainable, environmentally healthy communities by educating individuals on health concerns and implications arising from environmental pollution, empowering individuals with an understanding of applicable environmental laws and regulations and promoting their enforcement, and offering community building skills and resources for effective community action and greater public participation.​​ Our goal is to promote environmental protection through education, policy development, community awareness, and legal action. Our guiding principle is that everyone, regardless of race or income, is entitled to live in a clean environment.

Clean Water Action is a national 501(c)(4) environmental organization with nearly one million members nationwide. Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table.

Coming Clean, EJHA, PCACS, Clean Water Action, T.e.j.a.s., and NRDC have all endorsed the Louisville Charter for Safer Chemicals.


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