Backyard Talk

What’s Next? Polluted Communities Are Victimized Again.

By Teresa Mills
Today the Trump administration finalized its 49th de-regulatory action since he took office.  What will be the next human and environmental protection to hit the chopping block?
The administration says this move will make less of a burden on chemical plants by getting rid of “unnecessary regulatory burdens.”  The regulation was updated after a fertilizer plant exploded in Texas that killed 15 people, injured 160 and damaged or destroyed 150 buildings.  A crater 93-foot-wide was almost all that was left of the plant site.
In January 2017 under the Obama administration and reacting to the explosion in Texas the Risk Management Plan (RMP) rules were update to protect local communities from chemical disasters.  However, the Trump administration claims that the Obama update was burdensome and that little data showed that the Obama rule did not reduce accident rates.
Under the new Environmental Protection Agency’s risk management program (RMP), chemical plants will be rid of what the chemical industry says are “unnecessary regulatory burdens,” aligning with the wishes of the chemical industry.
The original plan was developed in 1996, with almost 12,500 facilities falling under the RMP.
EPA’s finalized rule Thursday comes two years after the agency tried to suspend the Obama rule, but in March of 2018 a federal judge reinstated the rule.
Of Course the American Petroleum Institute (API) applauded the Trumps administration gutting of the rule.  Welcome to the United States of Petroleum.
While the agency said that from 2007-2016 about 90 percent of the facilities that were required to report, reported no accidents.  Well gee do you think that might have been because they were required to clean up their act.  The rule was working as it should have.  Now however we will have to wait and see if they threw out the baby with the bath water.  I pray that someone will be there to catch that baby. Read more.


Massive Fire at Houston Petrochemical Storage Terminal May Last Two More Days

A massive fire at a fuels storage company along the Houston Ship Channel may burn for two more days, an official said on Monday as the blaze spread a plume of black smoke across the city, shutting schools in two nearby communities. Read more 

Backyard Talk

NEJAC Joins Chorus on Chemical Security

The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to use EPA’s authority under the “General Duty Clause” of the 1990 Clean Air Act (CAA) – also known as the Bhopal clause – to require covered chemical facilities to prevent, where feasible, catastrophic chemical releases.

The letter goes on to say that “Implementing the Clean Air Act’s prevention authority will not only eliminate accidental hazards but also will address fatal flaws in the current chemical security law administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Presently, DHS is prohibited from requiring the use of safer chemical processes at facilities. These gaps are particularly threatening to low-income and tribal communities and communities of color because they frequently reside near waste water treatment plants, refineries, and port facilities which are exempted under a 2006 Congressional statute that allows thousands of potentially high-risk facilities such as these from being required to use safer chemicals.”

The NEJAC letter echoes efforts by Greenpeace and a broad coaliton to address chemical security issues at industrial sites across the country. Last June 104 labor, environmental, public health and civil rights groups sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use the CAA’s general duty clause to prevent chemical disasters.

There are 483 chemical plants in the U.S. that each put 100,000 or more Americans at risk of a Bhopal-like disaster and several thousand other plants that use and store poison gases such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia on their property, As stated in the NEJAC letter, these plants are often located near residential areas in low-income and tribal communities and communities of color. Some communities no longer face these risks because the plants have switched to safer chemical processes. For example, the waste water treatment plant in Washington, DC converted from deadly chlorine gas to harmless liquid bleach 90 days after the 9/11 attacks.

The Obama Administration has repeatedly asked Congress to remove these risks by requiring the use of safer chemical processes where feasible. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have blocked these efforts and there is little hope that legislation will move forward in an election year. Alternatively, President Obama can use the general duty clause of the Clean Air Act to require companies to design and operate their facilities in a way that prevents the catastrophic release of poison gasses. Sign the Greenpeace petition urging President Obama to use his authority to prevent chemical disasters. For more information.