Harris County Texas, has asked a federal judge last week to overturn the Trump administration’s recent rollback of chemical safety rules, contending this rollback is unlawful.
County Attorney Vince Ryan petitioned the Washington D.C. circuit court to void the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules that reversed 2017 amendments that placed stricter requirements on companies over how they store chemicals and deal with chemical emergencies.
The Harris County Attorney joined 14 attorneys general from across the United States who have objected to the implementation of the rule adopted in December, saying the change will increase the risk of explosions and threaten public safety.
“The federal government is failing in its responsibility to protect us from dangerous chemical accidents,” Ryan said. “The EPA’s action gutted safety protections for chemical accidents and further endangers our neighborhoods in Harris County.”
The filing, approved by Commissioners Court at its February 18 meeting, comes after a number of high-profile chemical plant disasters in Harris County during 2019.
The County Attorney’s Office has cases pending arising from fires and explosions at Arkema Crosby, KMCO Crosby, ExxonMobil Baytown, Watson Grinding Spring Branch, and ITC Deer Park. The lawsuits seek to recover for expenses incurred by Harris County in dealing with these disasters and to order the companies to implement procedures to prevent further harm to the public.
“Our office will use every means at our disposal to fill the gaps left by the federal and state government’s failure to protect the people of Harris County,” Ryan said.
The 2017 amendments to the EPA’s chemical rule were implemented mostly because of the fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas that killed 15 people in 2013. After that incident, regulated companies were required to submit to independent audits, explore safer technologies, and provide more detailed and timely investigative reports following chemical accidents.
Those measures were rescinded under EPA’s Risk Management Program because they were no longer “reasonable or practicable” in relation to safer technology, third-party audits and other areas, EPA said in its summary of the rules published in the Federal Register.