News

Houston’s Fire Chief Says EPA Is ‘Going In The Wrong Direction’ On Chemical Safety Rules

A new version of an Obama-era rule keeps a requirement for companies to share emergency plans with local authorities, but allows flexibility on details that could pose security risks.

One of the apartment buildings destroyed in the West, Texas, explosion on April 18, 2013. The explosion led to proposed safety reforms during the Obama Administration that have now been revised under the Trump Administration.

Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña said the EPA’s move to roll back chemical safety reforms that were proposed after the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas would make it harder for his department to respond to such incidents.

“It’s counter-intuitive and it’s really unreasonable,” Peña said.

After the 2013 explosion, the Obama Administration announced tougher safety rules on facilities that store chemicals. The changes required companies to be more transparent about potential hazards and how chemicals are stored.

The updated rules never went into effect: the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt delayed the changes until 2019. Then in May, the EPA released a new version of the proposal that did away with some of the transparency requirements, after industry groups argued those requirements would lead to “significant” security risks.

The new rule keeps a requirement for companies to share emergency plans with local authorities, but allows flexibility on details that could pose security risks.

Still, Peña argues that communities near chemical facilities have a “right to know” about nearby hazards, and that the EPA’s new proposal could make it harder to deal with fires or explosions at chemical plants.

“We have to make operational decisions based on the risk factors that exist in communities,” he said, “and if we’re not privy to the information, it makes it very difficult to assess the risk in a community, it makes it very difficult to pre-plan a response.”

The EPA didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The trade group American Chemistry Council has said it supports the new chemical safety rules. In a statement in May, the group’s policy advocate Mike Walls said the update “fixes the serious problems created by misguided changes that were hastily adopted during the final days of the Obama Administration.”

Share

Travis Bubenik

Energy/Environment Reporter & Afternoon News Anchor

Travis Bubenik reports on the tangled intersections of energy and the environment in Houston and across Texas. A Houston native and proud Longhorn, he returned to the Bayou City after serving as the Morning Edition Host & Reporter for Marfa Public Radio in Far West Texas. Bubenik was previously the...

More Information