Greenpeace Starts Countdown Clock Asking: Why is Obama Letting the EPA Slow-walk Chemical Plant Safety?

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By Rick Hind, Greenpeace — When he was a Senator, President Obama championed legislation to prevent chemical disasters. On the Senate floor in 2006 he warned, “these plants are stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.”

As a candidate for in 2008, Obama made it an issue in his campaign platform, Change We Can Believe In

As President he sent representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and EPA to Capitol Hill to testify in favor of the same prevention policies that he had championed in the Senate. After the legislation was blocked by the chemical lobby in 2011 a coalition of over 100 organizations urged the President to use EPA’s long standing authority under the Clean Air Act to prevent future disasters by requiring safer alternatives.

Two years ago on April 17th, following the deadly chemical fertilizer disaster in West, Texas President Obama spoke at the memorial service of the fifteen victims of that preventable calamity, most of whom were first responders, saying, “we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere.” Obama video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARMMiH1UjSk

On August 1, 2013 the President appeared to put those words into action when he issued an executive order directing federal agencies to modernize their safety rules. Last May the EPA committed to finalizing new safety requirements by 2016. But two years after the disaster in West, Texas we’re still waiting for the EPA to begin the rule-making process. In the meantime there have been more than 350 additional chemical accidents. And there are still 466 chemical plants that each pose a catastrophic hazard to 100,000 or more people – 88 of which put one million or more people at risk.

Because the EPA rarely finalizes new rules in less than 18 months, our Coalition has urged them to start as soon as possible. If they don’t finish by June 2016 a new President or Congress could kill it by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), as President Bush did to important workplace safety rules in 2001.

Unfortunately, the EPA has chosen to wait until sometime in September to start this process.

To track their progress Greenpeace created a Countdown Clock on our web site. If the President and the EPA are serious about prioritizing disaster prevention, they must move up their start time to June 1st of this year so they can finalize a new rule by June 2016. After that, any new rule will be more vulnerable to the CRA.

The safety of millions of people depends on the administration finishing what they started. The EPA has been “considering” this issue on and off for 20 years. We finally have a President who knows how and what to do.

If he’s serious and wants this to be an important part of his legacy, he needs to ensure that the EPA acts as soon as possible. He’s hearing from the chemical lobby so please let him hear from you today by clicking here.

——– ***Chronology of the EPA “Considering” Chemical Disaster Prevention***

1995 “EPA does not favor inclusion of a specific requirement in the initial program for an analysis of the inherent safety of processes…EPA is considering further study of this issue with all stakeholders and requests comment on this issue.”

2002 Following the 9/11 attacks, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman proposed regulations in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks but they were scuttled by the Bush White House. She has since urged Obama to issue new safety rules.

2009 Peter S. Silva, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, testified in favor of requirements to use inherently safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.

2010 Cynthia Dougherty, EPA’s Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water of the Office of Water testified in favor of requirements to use inherently safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.

2011 Rand Beers, Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary testified in favor of requirements to use safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.

2012 EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council recommended that the “EPA use its authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act section 112 (r) to reduce or eliminate these catastrophic risks, where feasible, by issuing new rules and guidance…”

2012 EPA says they will address a petition from 54 organizations urging that they use their Clean Air Act authority to require inherently safer technologies (IST).

2013 President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 giving federal agencies such as the EPA, DHS and OSHA nine months to propose ways to modernize their chemical facility safety and security policies.

2014 In a multi-agency report to the President the EPA pledged to complete new regulations by 2016 including possible requirements for inherently safer technologies (IST)

2015 EPA plans to issue “proposed” regulations in September 2015 with the expectation of completing them in 2016.