Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has set in motion a process which would repeal Obama-era safety rules for chemical plants.
The rule was in implemented in December, shortly before Barack Obama was due to leave office. The new regulation was intended as an overhaul of environmental safety standards aimed at “preventing and mitigating” the effects of accidental chemical spills and releases.
The Hill reports that Pruitt is delaying the date when the rule is set to take effect. He also begun filing the paperwork to remove the regulation, only two weeks after a set of industry groups had written to him asking for such an action.
Before being appointed as the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt had been the Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma. His nomination and subsequent confirmation for his current post attracted widespread controversy both in Congress and among environmental activists. Pruitt is a long-time climate change denier who has a record of working hand-in-hand with big oil and energy corporations. He had filed over a dozen lawsuits against the EPA during his tenure as Attorney General and opposed the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay, which is among the most polluted bodies of water in the United States.
Pruitt is joined in his effort to overturn the chemical plant safety rule by a handful of Republican congressmen. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Markwayne Mullim (R-OK) have both supported the move, touting its benefits for business.
In a statement made last Monday, Pruitt said, “As an agency, we need to be responsive to concerns raised by stakeholders so facility owners and operators know what is expected of them.”
The Hill says Pruitt has delayed the rule’s effective date from March 14th to June 19th. The implementation had been frozen once before when White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus froze a host of regulations immediately after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The regulations had been designed in response to a 2013 disaster at the West Fertilizer Co. plant in West, Texas. 15 people were killed and over 250 others were injured. The rule created by the Obama administration stipulated, among other things, that chemical plants such as West Fertilizer Co. had to make information available to communities and first responders, so that emergency personnel and civilians would know how to respond in the case of emergency.
“The [Chemical Safety Board’s] investigation of the West Fertilizer incident found significant gaps in information critical to first responders. The EPA’s proposed rule was in part a response to our findings and recommendations,” said Hillary Cohen of the CSB. “In the final analysis, facility employees, communities, and first responders should have adequate information to understand the risks inherent in such facilities, to ensure everyone’s safety.”
The coalition of chemical and manufacturing groups which petitioned Pruitt to roll back the rule cited pre-existing EPA regulations which had successfully reduced incidences of accidental chemical releases over the course of the past twenty years.
The group said that the delayed regulation would do little to prevent criminal acts and chemical spills and could, in fact, create security risks.
The EPA had estimated the rule might cost chemical manufacturers $142 million to ensure compliance.