Following a massive chemical explosion in West, Texas that killed 15 people in 2013, the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency introduced a series of safety regulations meant to reduce the risk of such disasters.
Last week, the EPA announced those rules were being rolled back.
The repeal of the aptly named “Chemical Disaster Rule” has alarmed elected officials in Texas who know all too well the frequent dangers posed by the state’s chemical, oil and gas industry.
“By the time I got [the Obama rules] in my hands, it was already part of the Trump administration, and they shelved it,” the mayor of the Dallas-area town where the explosion occurred told the Dallas Morning News. “I was somewhat disappointed.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who has made a point of holding chemical and oil industries accountable for disasters in the region, also lamented the loss of the rules. “We continue to work diligently at the local level to keep our communities from harm, but meaningful change is difficult without strong regulations and monitoring at all levels of government,” she said according to the Houston Chronicle.
The chemical disaster rules, issued one week before Trump took office, brought a host of prevention requirements, including additional analysis of safer technology and alternatives, processes for third-party audits and incident investigations, enhancements to emergency preparedness requirements, and increased public availability of chemical hazard information.
The Trump administration delayed the implementation of the rules, but environmental groups scored a victory in federal appeals court after judges ordered the Trump administration to enforce the rules.
Now the rules are being gutted under the guise of saving billions in regulatory costs. “This administration is gutting the few protections we have against chemical explosions and other toxic disasters, just to appease chemical companies who only worry about their own profit,” read a Thursday statement by 13 environmental groups that first successfully vacated the delay of that rule. “Yet for the millions of families and children who live by chemical facilities, this is not about money, it’s about surviving chemical disasters. Lives depend on this rule.”
The Trump administration has rolled back at least 85 environmental rules since taking office.
Due to an editing error, this story has been updated to reflect the city of West, Texas, not the region.