New York, NY — Yesterday, New York Attorney General Letitia James submitted testimony in support of revisions to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations in the Chemical Accident Safety Rule, which the Trump administration had weakened by rolling back an earlier rule. The comments urge the EPA to improve the rule by requiring RMP facilities to assess risks posed by natural hazards and by taking steps to protect environmental justice communities in proximity to RMP facilities.
The testimony points to several examples of RMP accidents to demonstrate that the risk of hazardous accidents is increased by extreme weather events that are worsened by climate change. For example, the Arkema Crosby chemical facility in Texas never considered flooding in its risk analysis, but erupted into a chemical fire after the facility flooded during Hurricane Harvey. The letter also calls on the EPA to require facilities to consider safer alternative technologies, to conduct real-time air monitoring, and to put systems in place to improve emergency communications with fenceline communities. These facilities pose a substantial risk to their surrounding communities and are often located near environmental justice communities. The letter also summarizes and documents the success of similar requirements at the state level, including programs in New Jersey and Massachusetts that the EPA alleged to be ineffective as a justification for the Trump-era rollback.
“Attorneys general have been concerned about safeguards to avoid and mitigate chemical accidents, particularly given the heightened risks posed by climate change, such as extreme weather events and rising sea levels,” said Bethany Davis Noll, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “These comments provide valuable data to hopefully spur more expeditious action in the ongoing review of these long-delayed safety measures.”
Background — In January 2017, the EPA finalized the Chemical Accident Safety Rule, which strengthened Risk Management Program regulations by requiring measures to avoid and mitigate accidents at chemical facilities. In June 2017, the Trump administration delayed the effective date of the rule, prompting a coalition of 11 AGs to seek vacatur of the delay. The D.C. Circuit ruled that the delay was illegal and subsequently ordered the EPA to enforce the rule. In May 2018, the EPA proposed to roll back significant features of the rule. State AGs submitted comments in August 2018 and supplemental comments in October 2019 objecting to the rollback. The EPA released its final rule in December 2019, removing requirements for companies to consider safer technology and to publicly disclose chemical hazard and emergency preparedness information. AG James led a coalition in filing a petition for review to challenge the final rule in January 2020, and another coalition in filing a petition for reconsideration of the rule in February 2020.
The EPA’s comment period on this issue is open until July 31, 2021.
About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. For more information, visit our website.