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Greenhouse Gases

Changes to industry safety program prompt suit against US EPA

Regulation affects facilities that use, make, or store highly hazardous chemicals

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
January 16, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 3

Photo of a chemical plant.
Credit: US Chemical Safety Board
After a methyl mercaptan release killed four workers at DuPont's La Porte, Texas, facility in 2014, the company agreed to pay a $3.1 million civil penalty for violating the EPA's Risk Management Program.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union and a mix of environmental and community groups have sued the US Environmental Protection Agency, seeking a review of the agency’s recent overhaul of the national Risk Management Program (RMP).

The program covers some 12,500 facilities that use, make, or store highly hazardous chemicals. More than 100 million people live near these plants.

The EPA’s updated regulation, issued in December, removed provisions established during the Obama administration. These requirements were put in place after a multiyear review triggered by a deadly ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, in 2013.

Among provisions the Trump administration struck from the Obama-era regulation were requirements for independent, third-party audits of companies after an accident, root-cause accident investigations, and consideration of inherently safer manufacturing approaches. Citing security needs, the revised regulation also limits public access to plant hazard information used for community emergency planning.

“Thousands of our members signed petitions imploring the EPA not to gut” the program, USW president Tom Conway says in a statement. “Now, we’re going to court to protect our members and our communities.”

The USW suit was combined with a similar suit from the Air Alliance of Houston, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, and other local and national organizations.

The new EPA regulation has the support of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, which heralded its “strong regulatory framework.”



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