Environmental Justice Health Alliance
Washington, D.C. – The D.C. Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals ruled August 17th that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must immediately implement improvements to the nation's Risk Management Plan program (RMP), which seek to prevent and mitigate chemical disasters from over 12,500 domestic facilities which risk catastrophic explosions or poisonous gas releases.
Improvements to the RMP program have been under consideration for over four years, first initiated by the Obama Administration after the deadly West, TX disaster, but were stalled early this year when former EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, issued a 20-month delay. In the court opinion, judges determined this delay was "arbitrary and capricious," and ordered EPA to reverse it immediately. Facilities will now be required to comply with the updated RMP program as initially finalized January 13, 2017.
Over 177 million people across America live within the vulnerability zones of RMP facilities, and studies have found these communities are disproportionately composed of people of color and low-income families. A demographic analysis of people living within vulnerability zones, titledWho's In Danger, found that the percentage of Blacks and Latinos is 75% and 60% greater (respectively) than for the average of the U.S. as a whole. The poverty rate near hazardous chemical facilities is 50% higher than the rest of the nation.
Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA), responded to today's ruling; "Today's court ruling forces EPA to finally enact thoughtful and appropriate measures to prevent chemical disasters, and it's a major victory for everyone who lives in the shadow of these dangerous facilities. More than 12,500 facilities across the nation threaten their neighbors, workers, and first-responders with catastrophic explosions or poisonous gas releases, and the risk of disaster is disproportionately borne by people of color and the poor.
The Trump Administration's EPA has been illegally dragging their feet on common-sense disaster prevention rules, and it's about time the court grabbed them by the ear and forced them to do their job. Now, we will watch closely as EPA moves to implement the provisions ordered by the court, and hold fast in opposition to EPA's ongoing effort to reverse these disaster prevention measures."
Following today's court order, EPA or industry representatives may petition for a re-hearing en banc, but this is generally considered a long-shot and unlikely to stall enactment of these updates to the RMP program any further. Industry must now comply with the updated program as originally finalized in January 2017. On a separate track, EPA is still considering a reversal of these RMP amendments and is taking public comments on this issue through August 23, 2018.