USW Joins Community Groups to Sue Environmental Protection Agency

This article originally appeared in Issue 11 of Chemical Solutions.

The administration’s delay implementing a commonsense rule to protect chemical workers and the community from industrial chemical releases and explosions prompted the USW and community allies to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a delay of implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule until February 2019, supposedly to enable him and his staff to rewrite the rule.

Many groups, including the USW and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), opposed the delay and urged the agency to make the rule effective as soon as possible because the provisions could save the lives of workers and community members.

The Chemical Disaster Rule is an update of EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) to prevent chemical releases and explosions. The Obama Administration finalized the regulation at the end of its term.

The rule has commonsense provisions like involving workers in root cause analysis after incidents and near-misses, increasing coordination with first responders in preparation for an incident, and providing greater information sharing with localities and the public about risks.

EPA officials in the previous administration said they updated the RMP because of incidents like the West, Texas, fertilizer explosion that killed 12 firefighters in 2013 and the catastrophic incidents at USW-represented refineries in Anacortes, Wash., and Richmond, Calif.

Last fall, a chlorosulfonic acid release occurred at the USW-represented Solvay chemical facility near Baltimore, Md.  Fortunately, no one was injured. Although the chemical in question was not regulated under the RMP, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Pruitt, urging him to implement the rule immediately. Senator Cardin said that the provisions in the Chemical Disaster Rule would have been beneficial to the people of Baltimore and other places where similar releases have occurred.

Eleven state attorney generals are also using similar arguments in their lawsuits against EPA. The court scheduled oral arguments for March 16, 2018.

(Anna Fendley handles worker health and safety legislative matters at the USW’s legislative office in Washington, D.C.)

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