Dozens of incidents have killed workers and endangered residents near petrochemical plants. A chemical-related industrial incident occurs every two and a half days. But tragedies like these don’t have to happen. Corporations don’t want the cost or inconvenience of tougher standards, even when those changes would save lives. They don’t want to be told that they have to consider safer methods of production. They don’t want to share hazard information with the public. They don’t want to answer to anyone.
In January 2017, the EPA issued the Chemical Disaster Rule, which provided sweeping new safeguards for workers, first responders and communities where dangerous plants are located. It would have forced operators to address unsafe practices and keep their equipment up to date. Among many other improvements, the rule would have required comprehensive investigations into the immediate and underlying causes of disasters and so-called near misses. That would have been a huge advance over the current practice, in which companies can choose to investigate only the immediate factors and skip over other issues that also weigh heavily on safety. In addition, the rule would have required that companies hire outside experts after a disaster to audit their compliance with incident prevention and response regulations. This would have provided a much-needed objective review of company practices. The rule also would have required chemical companies and other manufacturers to determine whether they could improve safety by using different materials, technology or production processes. That could mean using smaller amounts of hazardous substances or replacing one substance with another that’s less dangerous. Or it could mean switching to a type of steel piping more resistant to corrosion.
Trump became president before the new requirements took effect. Corporations that own chemical and petrochemical plants complained about the requirements, and shortly after Trump took office, his business-friendly EPA abruptly decided to sit on them. Now, after delaying implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule for two years, Trump’s EPA just killed most of it. instead of standing up for workers, the EPA capitulated to the industry it’s supposed to regulate. It sold out safety. It put corporations before workers’ health and safety.
Despite the risks posed by these plants, people who live near them are often ill-prepared for these emergencies. The Chemical Disaster Rule would have required the operators to provide chemical hazard and accident history information to the public, so schools, daycare centers, hospitals and nursing homes near the plants had the resources they needed to develop their own emergency response plans. Now, Trump is denying them that sense of security. That puts residents at greater risk of injury and death.
Despite the deaths and suffering refinery catastrophes have caused, chemical and petrochemical companies fought the Chemical Disaster Rule. They balked at spending an extra buck on safety, on letting outside experts lead accident reviews and at sharing information about their operations. They have found an ally in Trump’s EPA.