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Trump rolls back Obama-era chemical safety rules

By Danielle Haynes
Trump rolls back Obama-era chemical safety rules
Firefighters were attempting to put out a blaze at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, when it exploded, killing 15 people April 17, 2013. File Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA

Nov. 21 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Thursday rolled back Obama-era chemical safety rules put in place after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, killed 15 people.

The Environmental Protection Agency nixed rules requiring companies to publicly provide information about the chemicals they store at their facilities.

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The Obama administration introduced the rule after 12 first responders died in the 2013 explosion in Texas. Firefighters were attempting to put out a blaze at the fertilizer plant when more than 80,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate exploded, creating a blast that also injured more than 160 people and damaged or destroyed dozens of buildings.

The Trump administration said it's rescinding the rule since arson was ultimately to blame for the explosion -- not the unsafe storage of chemicals -- and because of the burden of the regulation of U.S. businesses. Additionally, the EPA said it received complaints that having open access to information about chemical storage made such sites vulnerable to terror attacks.

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"Under the Trump Administration, EPA is listening to our first responders and homeland security experts. Today's final action addresses emergency responders' longstanding concerns and maintains important public safety measures while saving Americans roughly $88 million per year," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.

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"Accident prevention is a top priority of the EPA and this rule promotes improved coordination between chemical facilities and emergency responders, reduces unnecessary regulatory burdens, and addresses security risks associated with previous amendments to the RMP rule."

In addition to removing the rule requiring companies to provide information about chemical storage, the EPA's actions Thursday reduce measures companies must take to prevent accidents.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the Trump administration for easing the burden on state and local governments.

"By listening to the state and local experts who have pointed out the national security and public safety risks of publishing sensitive information about refineries, chemical plants, manufacturing facilities, and agricultural operations, the Trump Administration has shown its dedication to putting the rule of law and the safety of Americans first," he said.

But some environmental activists say the rollback makes first responders less safe.

"Given the EPA is first and foremost a public health agency, it is unconscionable that the Trump administration would gut key protections for emergency responders and people living near facilities that handle potentially dangerous chemicals," Elena Craft, senior director of climate and health at the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement to The Washington Post.

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"We need more-detailed emergency plans, increased transparency and safer technology. This action moves in the wrong direction when it's clear that the cost of chemical disasters is far greater than keeping communities safe."

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