U.S. Attorneys General seek to prevent EPA from delaying new chemical safety rule

U.S. Attorneys General seek to prevent EPA from delaying new chemical safety rule

The 11-state coalition, led by N.Y., claims delay of Obama-administration amendments to the RMP exceeds Trump EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of 11 state Attorneys General, filed a lawsuit this week against the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for delaying the effective date of amendments to the EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) for 20 months, or until February 19, 2019.

Seeking to lift the delay, the lawsuit is led by Attorney General Schneiderman and signed by the Attorneys General of New York, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

The 25-year-old RMP as originally constituted imposes safety requirements on U.S. cold storage and food processing facilities using at least 10,000 lbs. of ammonia in refrigeration processes, as well as on many other facilities that store and use toxic chemicals.

The amended RMP rule, issued by the Obama administration in late December 2016, changes the RMP in three areas: ensuring that local responders and community residents are prepared for an accident, preventing catastrophic accidents, and requiring independent third-party audits following an accident.

“Protecting our workers, first-responders, and communities from chemical accidents should be something on which we all agree. Yet the Trump EPA continues to put special interests before the health and safety of the people they serve,” said Attorney General Schneiderman, in a statement. “It’s simply outrageous to block these common sense protections – and Attorneys General will keep fighting back when our communities are put at risk.”

The coalition of Attorneys General is challenging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s delay of the rule by an additional 20 months delay as exceeding EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act, and as arbitrary and capricious.

While the bill is delayed, EPA will conduct a reconsideration proceeding to review objections raised to the final RMP amendments rule, including concerns about third-party audits of ammonia refrigeration facilities. “The delay is intended to give EPA time to reconsider the rule and to consider other issues that may benefit from additional comment,” said Lowell Randel, vice-president, government and legal affairs, Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), which supported the delay.

The effective date of the amended RMP rule, originally set for March 14 and then reset for March 21, had been extended to June 19, pending the EPA’s effort to delay the rule’s implementation until February 2019.

To delay the effective date of the RMP rule until 2019, the EPA published a proposed rule, for which it held a public hearing on April 19 seeking comments. The hearing attracted a range of organizations, including industry groups such as GCCA and the Agricultural Retailers Association, as well as NGOs like the Union of Concerned Scientists and the BlueGreen Alliance.

The more than 12,000 U.S. facilities covered by the regulations include chemical manufacturers, petroleum refineries, pulp and paper mills, chemical and petroleum wholesalers and terminals, wastewater treatment plants, agricultural chemical distributors, midstream gas plants, and food storage facilities with ammonia refrigeration systems. According to the EPA, in the last ten years, there have been over 1,5oo accidents at chemical plants.