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Energy & Environment

Trump EPA Eases Safety Requirements Enacted After West Explosion

Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the new rules, saying they would make Texans safer. The Obama-era regulation was meant to improve chemical safety practices and prevent tragedies like the deadly 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in the tiny Central Texas town of West.


A vehicle near the remains of a fertilizer plant burning after an explosion in West, near Waco.

Days before President Barack Obama left office in 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule aimed at preventing tragedies like the 2013 explosion and fire in the tiny Central Texas town of West that killed a dozen first responders.

Among other requirements, what came to be known as the “Chemical Disaster Rule” would have made it easier for the public to access hazard-planning documents and required increased coordination with first responders. It also required companies to provide increased emergency planning information to local officials and to hold more frequent meetings and trainings.

On Thursday, the EPA — which delayed implementation of the Obama rule after Trump took office — announced it would largely unwind the regulation, which was widely unpopular in the chemical industry. Republican officials argued it was too burdensome and increased the risk of terror attacks as it required some divulgence by facilities regarding what dangerous chemicals they stored. Some first responder groups also argued the regulation is too complex, though in lawsuits filed after the West incident and other recent chemical plant explosions, first responders have argued that a lack of information impacted their ability to respond effectively.

An EPA fact sheet explains that the new regulations would rescind most of the public information availability provisions of the Obama-era rule and modify the emergency coordination and exercise provisions, as well as suspend all accident-prevention program provisions while EPA coordinates with other federal agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on further regulations. The fact sheet also noted that an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that the West incident was due to arson.

"Today's final action addresses emergency responders' longstanding concerns and maintains important public safety measures while saving Americans roughly $88 million per year," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. "Accident prevention is a top priority of the EPA and this rule promotes improved coordination between chemical facilities and emergency responders, reduces unnecessary regulatory burdens, and addresses security risks associated with previous amendments to the RMP [Risk Management Plan] rule."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the new rule in a statement sent out by the EPA, saying he was “grateful to the EPA for making the changes necessary to get the Risk Management Plan rule back in line with public safety and a proper balance of power between state and federal authorities.”

“These revisions to the Obama-administrations' last-minute rule will make Texans safer, ease the burden on state and local governments, and restore some common sense to the regulatory process,” Paxton said. “By listening to the state and local experts who have pointed out the national security and public safety risks of publishing sensitive information about refineries, chemical plants, manufacturing facilities, and agricultural operations, the Trump Administration has shown its dedication to putting the rule of law and the safety of Americans first.”

Texas’ Republican leaders have been outspoken in their opposition to the Obama-era rule — and moved to weaken public-disclosure requirements even before the administration acted.