firefighters spraying water at fire

Chemical Accidents

Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule

2017-2021

  • Jan­u­ary 2017

    In Jan­u­ary 2017, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) final­ized the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule (also known as the Acci­den­tal Release Pre­ven­tion Require­ments rule) under the Clean Air Act, which required more than 12,000 chem­i­cal facil­i­ties across the coun­try to con­duct root cause” analy­ses and third-par­ty audits fol­low­ing acci­dents and to ana­lyze the use of safer tech­nol­o­gy and alter­na­tives to pre­vent acci­dents. The rule also requires that chem­i­cal facil­i­ties adopt emer­gency response pro­ce­dures, includ­ing coor­di­na­tion with first respon­ders so that they will not be exposed to dan­ger­ous tox­i­cs when respond­ing to acci­dents at chem­i­cal facilities.

  • June 2017

    In June 2017, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion sought to delay the effec­tive date for the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule for 20 months until Feb­ru­ary 2019. The fol­low­ing month, 11 attor­neys gen­er­al filed a peti­tion for review in the D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, seek­ing a deter­mi­na­tion by the court that the EPA’s attempt to delay the effec­tive date of the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule was unlaw­ful and must be vacated.

  • August 2018

    In August 2018, the D.C. Cir­cuit ruled in favor of the attor­neys gen­er­al, vacat­ing the June 2017 delay rule as the EPA had not engaged in the rea­soned deci­sion-mak­ing required by the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act (APA). A week lat­er, the attor­neys gen­er­al request­ed that the D.C. Cir­cuit issue an order direct­ing the EPA to imme­di­ate­ly rein­state the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule as the rule had already been sus­pend­ed for four­teen months. In Sep­tem­ber, the D.C. Cir­cuit sided with the attor­neys gen­er­al and ordered the EPA to begin enforc­ing the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule. Mean­while, the EPA is still pur­su­ing efforts to per­ma­nent­ly repeal por­tions of the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule. 

  • May 2018

    In May 2018, the EPA released a pro­posed rule to roll back parts of the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule. The tar­get­ed pro­vi­sions include a require­ment that com­pa­nies share infor­ma­tion about the dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals they pro­duce and to take acci­dent pre­ven­tive measures.

  • August 2018

    In August 2018, a coali­tion of 12 attor­neys gen­er­al sub­mit­ted com­ments to the EPA on the pro­posed rule. The attor­neys gen­er­al called on the EPA to aban­don the roll­back because the pro­pos­al threat­ens the safe­ty of work­ers, first respon­ders and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties and is unlaw­ful under the Clean Air Act.

  • Octo­ber 2019

    In Octo­ber 2019, a coali­tion of 13 attor­neys gen­er­al filed sup­ple­men­tal com­ments with the EPA, once again urg­ing the agency to with­draw its pro­pos­al to roll back parts of the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule. The let­ter point­ed to the explo­sion of hydro­flu­o­ric acid at the Philadel­phia Ener­gy Solu­tions refin­ery ear­li­er in 2019 as demon­strat­ing the need for a strong Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule to pre­vent dead­ly chem­i­cal accidents.

  • Decem­ber 2019

    In Decem­ber 2019, the EPA released its final rule to roll back parts of the Chem­i­cal Acci­dent Safe­ty Rule. The final rule removed the require­ment that com­pa­nies, when request­ed, pro­vide chem­i­cal haz­ard infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ty emer­gency pre­pared­ness infor­ma­tion to the pub­lic. Addi­tion­al­ly, the require­ment that plant own­ers con­sid­er safer tech­nol­o­gy and the require­ment for third-par­ty com­pli­ance audits were rescinded. 

  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    In Jan­u­ary 2020, a coali­tion of 15 attor­neys gen­er­al filed a peti­tion for review with the D.C. Cir­cuit to chal­lenge EPA’s final rule.

  • Feb­ru­ary 2020

    In Feb­ru­ary 2020, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leti­tia James led a coali­tion of sev­en­teen attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing a peti­tion for recon­sid­er­a­tion of the EPA’s final rule. The attor­neys gen­er­al point­ed out that the EPA should revis­it the rule giv­en a num­ber of recent, seri­ous chem­i­cals acci­dents, includ­ing the June 2019 fire and explo­sion at a Philadel­phia refin­ery. The attor­neys gen­er­al also not­ed that the EPA has ignored rec­om­men­da­tions from the U.S. Chem­i­cal Safe­ty and Haz­ard Inves­ti­ga­tion Board that call for the agency to eval­u­ate the ade­qua­cy of risk man­age­ment plans for refiner­ies that use hydro­gen flu­o­ride and to con­sid­er the use of safer tech­nolo­gies. The attor­neys gen­er­al urged the EPA to stay its final rule for three months, pend­ing com­ple­tion of its recon­sid­er­a­tion process of the final rule.

Pro­tect­ing Com­mu­ni­ties from Explosions

High­ly flam­ma­ble, high­ly explo­sive crude oil is shipped by freight rail via trains through­out the Unit­ed States, pass­ing dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed com­mu­ni­ties and eco­log­i­cal­ly sen­si­tive areas. These so-called bomb trains” have been involved in sev­er­al cat­a­stroph­ic rail acci­dents in recent years, includ­ing a 2013 explo­sion in Que­bec that killed 47 peo­ple. Vapor pres­sure is a key dri­ver of oil’s explo­sive­ness and flam­ma­bil­i­ty; pre-ship­ment treat­ment of crude oil to reduce dan­ger­ous vapor pres­sure would sig­nif­i­cant­ly mit­i­gate the pos­si­bil­i­ty of uncon­trol­lable fires and vio­lent explosions.

In Decem­ber 2015, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Schnei­der­man peti­tioned the Trans­porta­tion Depart­men­t’s Pipeline and Haz­ardous Mate­ri­als Safe­ty Admin­is­tra­tion (PHM­SA) to set a vapor pres­sure stan­dard for the trans­porta­tion of crude oil via train cars.

2017-2021

  • Jan­u­ary 2017

    In Jan­u­ary 2017, the PHM­SA issued an advanced notice of pro­posed rule­mak­ing for a vapor pres­sure standard. 

  • May 2017

    In May 2017, the attor­neys gen­er­al of six states sub­mit­ted com­ments to PHM­SA in sup­port of a nation­wide lim­it on the vapor pres­sure of crude oil trans­port­ed by rail in the Unit­ed States.

  • Octo­ber 2019

    In Octo­ber 2019, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leti­tia James led a coali­tion of four attor­neys gen­er­al in sub­mit­ting com­ments in sup­port of the State of Wash­ing­ton and in oppo­si­tion to an attempt by North Dako­ta and Mon­tana to pre­empt a Wash­ing­ton law that sets a lim­it for the allow­able vapor pres­sure when trans­port­ing crude oil by rail in Wash­ing­ton. The com­ments urged PHM­SA to deny North Dako­ta and Montana’s peti­tion because Washington’s laws relate to whol­ly in-state activ­i­ties for in-state pur­pos­es,” and not­ed that PHM­SA has yet to set a pro­tec­tive nation­wide lim­it for vapor pres­sure of crude oil trans­port­ed by rail.

  • May 2020

    In May 2020, PHM­SA issued its admin­is­tra­tive deter­mi­na­tion on the request from North Dako­ta and Mon­tana. PHM­SA deter­mined that the vapor pres­sure require­ment in the Wash­ing­ton law is an obsta­cle to accom­plish­ing and car­ry­ing out the fed­er­al Haz­ardous Mate­r­i­al Trans­porta­tion Law (HMTA) and, as a result, it con­clud­ed that HMTA pre­empts the Wash­ing­ton law.

Trans­port­ing Liq­uid Nat­ur­al Gas by Rail

2017-2021

  • Octo­ber 2019

    In Octo­ber 2019, PHM­SA released a notice of pro­posed rule­mak­ing that would allow liqui­fied nat­ur­al gas (LNG) to be trans­port­ed by rail nation­wide for the first time. LNG is a high­ly flam­ma­ble, odor­less, and poten­tial­ly explo­sive sub­stance. The pro­pos­al admits that the risks of trans­port­ing LNG by rail include fire­balls, flash fire, and explo­sions from ground-lev­el vapor clouds” that reach near­ly 2,500 °F. Cur­rent­ly, fed­er­al haz­ardous mate­ri­als reg­u­la­tions do not per­mit LNG to be trans­port­ed by rail, but an Exec­u­tive Order signed by Pres­i­dent Trump in April 2019 direct­ed the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (DOT) to pro­pose a rule that would per­mit LNG to be trans­port­ed in approved rail tank cars” and to final­ize that rule­mak­ing by May 2020. PHMSA’s pro­pos­al would allow LNG to be trans­port­ed on trains with up to 100 rail cars oper­at­ed by a sin­gle con­duc­tor through dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed areas and on the same rail lines as high-speed pas­sen­ger trains.

  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    In Jan­u­ary 2020, a coali­tion of six­teen attor­neys gen­er­al led by New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al James and Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bri­an Frosh sub­mit­ted com­ments urg­ing PHM­SA to with­draw the pro­pos­al. In their com­ments, the attor­neys gen­er­al high­light­ed that the pro­pos­al ignores the haz­ards of trans­port­ing LNG along domes­tic rail cor­ri­dors, cit­ing com­ments from the Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board (NTSB), which empha­sized that there is no data avail­able assess­ing how LNG tank cars would fare in the event of a crash, and com­ments from the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of State Fire Mar­shals oppos­ing PHMSA’s pro­pos­al as it pos­es a safe­ty risk to first respon­ders and the pub­lic. The attor­neys gen­er­al point­ed out that the pro­pos­al vio­lates the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA) by over­look­ing the sig­nif­i­cant envi­ron­men­tal impacts asso­ci­at­ed with increased trans­port and deliv­ery of LNG and resul­tant increas­es in emis­sions of green­house gas­es and oth­er pollutants.

  • July 2020

    In July 2020, PHM­SA, ignor­ing the con­cerns raised by the coali­tion of attor­neys gen­er­al, pub­lished a final ver­sion of the rule. The rule will allow LNG to be car­ried on trains of up to 100 rail cars through heav­i­ly pop­u­lat­ed parts of the coun­try. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing month, August 2020, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al James and Mary­land Attor­ney Gen­er­al Frosh led a coali­tion of fif­teen attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing a law­suit against PHM­SA in the D.C. Cir­cuit chal­leng­ing the law­ful­ness of the July 2020 rule. The attor­neys gen­er­al are seek­ing a deter­mi­na­tion from the court that the final rule vio­lates the APA, HMTA and NEPA and that the rule be vacated.