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House Democrats Urge EPA Chief to Suspend Efforts to Weaken Safety Standards for Chemical Facilities

Aug 23, 2018
Press Release
The Proposed Rule Prioritizes Polluters Over the Safety of Workers, First Responders and Communities Near These Facilities

Today 66 House Democrats urged Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to suspend efforts to finalize a proposed rule that would roll back safety and security standards for chemical facilities established under the Obama Administration.

In early 2017, the Obama Administration took steps to improve safety standards for workers and communities around chemical facilities. The proposal would have required chemical facilities to improve safety standards, including requiring emergency preparedness plans and improving coordination with local emergency first responders.

Unfortunately, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt indefinitely suspended implementation of the Obama-era chemical safety standard at the behest of the industry. In its place, Pruitt developed a far weaker and insufficient replacement proposal, known as the Risk Management Programs (RMP) Reconsideration Rule.

“The RMP Reconsideration Rule proposed in May seeks to roll back critical protections for workers, first responders and communities, putting the constituents we serve at great risk,” the 66 House Democrats wrote to Wheeler. “Most egregiously, the proposed rule would gut all measures intended to prevent chemical disasters at the approximately 12,500 chemical facilities covered by the RMP program. Roughly 177 million Americans live, work, and go to school in harm’s way of a worst-case scenario chemical disaster, including one in three schoolchildren.”

The associated risks of chemical disasters also fall squarely on those living or working near RMP facilities, which are disproportionately located in low-income and minority communities. The proposed RMP Reconsideration Rule even acknowledges this fact when it states, “this action may have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations, low-income populations and/or indigenous peoples.” The House Democrats wrote that finalizing the current provisions of this rule violates principles of environmental justice stemming from the fundamental requirement for equal protection from environmental harms and risks.

Last week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned former Administrator Pruitt’s indefinite delay of the Obama Administration’s chemical safety standards, which now puts the strong 2017 rules into effect. House Democrats are urging Acting Administrator Wheeler to permanently withdraw former Administrator Pruitt’s proposed rule to roll back the Obama-era chemical facility safety standards.

“It has been over a year since your predecessor hastily suspended the full protections of the 2017 RMP Amendments Rule, and in that time at least 58 incidents have occurred at facilities covered by the program,” the House Democrats continued in their letter to Wheeler.  “While the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned this delay, you now have an opportunity to protect those who work and live in and around these facilities by withdrawing the Agency’s proposed May 2018 RMP Reconsideration Rule.”   

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr., (NJ-06), Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (NY-20), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Karen Bass (CA-37), Donald Beyer (VA-08), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Brendan F. Boyle (PA-13), Anthony G. Brown (MD-04), Julia Brownley (CA-26), G.K.Butterfield (NC-01), Salud O. Carbajal (CA-24), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Joe Courtney (CT-02), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07), Diana DeGette (CO-01), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Michael F. Doyle (PA-14), Eliot L. Engel (NY-16), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), John Garamendi (CA-03), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Gene Green (TX-29), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), William R. Keating (MA-09), Joseph P. Kennedy III (MA-04), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Daniel T. Kildee (MI-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), John Lewis (GA-05), Daniel Lipinski (IL-03), Ben Ray Luján (NM-03), Doris O. Matsui (CA-06), A. Donald McEachin (VA-04), Jerry McNerney (CA-09), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Donald Norcross (NJ-01), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-00), Bill Pascrell Jr. (NJ-09), Scott H. Peters (CA-52), Jared Polis (CO-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), John P. Sarbanes (MD-03), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Mark Takano (CA-41), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Peter Welch (VT-AL), and Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24).

Letter available HERE.