WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today joined a coalition of 15 attorneys general and the City of Philadelphia in suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for gutting safeguards to prevent and limit harms from dangerous chemical accidents. Specifically, the coalition is challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era amendments to its “Risk Management Program” (RMP) regulations, referred to as the Chemical Disaster Rule. This rule made critical improvements to the RMP to better safeguard against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at facilities that store and use toxic chemicals. Relaxing the rule would lower safety requirements at four District-based facilities required to follow the RMP regulations, raising risks for District residents living in adjacent neighborhoods. The coalition is urging the Court to declare the change unlawful and reverse its implementation.
The EPA finalized a rule that rolls back critical elements of the Chemical Disaster Rule in December 2019, which eliminated safeguards in accident prevention programs designed to protect communities and prevent future accidents. These changes included the elimination of independent audits conducted by third-parties and “root cause” analyses following accidents, as well as analyses of safer technology and alternatives that could prevent or lessen harms from accidents. EPA also cut back on training requirements and requiring facilities to share information with first responders and nearby communities on hazardous chemicals used onsite.
In August 2018, a coalition of 12 attorneys general submitted extensive comments on the EPA’s proposed rollback of the Chemical Disaster Rule, arguing that the proposal, if adopted, would be “arbitrary and capricious” and “inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.” The coalition urged EPA to heed the warning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that the Agency’s single-minded focus on industry costs of complying with the Rule made a “mockery” out of the Clean Air Act.
The District has a strong interest in ensuring local toxic chemical plants are held to high safety standards, given the public safety risks that industrial accidents pose to nearby communities. In fact, since the attorneys general commented on the proposed rule last summer, accidents at facilities regulated under the RMP have occurred across the country, causing deaths, injuries, and evacuations. For example, in November 2019, the massive explosions at the TPC Group chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas released toxic plumes of butadiene and other carcinogens into the air, injured at least eight people, and required the evacuation of over 60,000 residents from the surrounding communities. Should the EPA rule proceed and further weaken regulations in place to guard against chemical disasters, the likelihood of such dangerous incidences will increase, leaving District residents more vulnerable to harm.
A copy of the coalition’s petition for review, as filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-01/Chemical-Disaster-Rule-Petition-for-Review.pdf
AG Racine joins the lawsuit led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, with attorneys general of Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the City of Philadelphia.
OAG’s Environmental Work
Over the past year, OAG has devoted new resources to protecting the environment and protecting the health and safety of District residents. OAG is deeply involved in the District’s ongoing cleanup of the Anacostia River and has joined numerous multistate lawsuits to stop the Trump administration from rolling back important environmental protections. The office is also focused on addressing persistent local environmental problems, especially those that affect low-income communities of color. To protect District residents, OAG has filed suit against Ward 5 businesses that repeatedly spilled toxic oil onto sidewalks and streets, against a Ward 7 landlord who exposed tenants to toxic lead paint, and against Greyhound for air pollution violations at Union Station.