Durbin, Duckworth, Colleagues Urge EPA To Implement Robust Prevention And Safety Standards To Prevent Chemical Disasters


SPRINGFIELD – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, joined U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA-44th) in leading 27 of their colleagues in urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement strong safeguards at high-risk chemical facilities to protect fenceline environmental justice communities, facility workers, and first responders from chemical disasters.


As the agency prepares to make long overdue updates to the Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule that regulates certain chemical facilities in the United States, the members of Congress noted in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan that the “upcoming revisions to the RMP rule also provide a critical opportunity to protect vulnerable communities from the ‘double disasters’ that result when chemical disasters coincide with climate-related disasters like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.”


The letter also highlights that “over 175 million people in the United States live near the roughly 12,000 high-risk chemical facilities that are regulated under EPA’s RMP rule” and that the “fenceline communities located closest to these facilities and facing tremendous threat are disproportionately communities of color and low-income communities.” 


Examples of chemical facilities covered under the RMP rule include refineries, chemical manufacturers and distributors, fertilizer factories, water treatment plants, and liquefied petroleum gas storage facilities. Current federal regulations have failed to sufficiently protect chemical facility workers, first responders, and communities living near hazardous chemical facilities.


“In the last ten years for which data is available,” the lawmakers wrote. “There have been 149 harmful chemical disasters per year, on average, including large-scale chemical releases, fires, and explosions…of all reported chemical incidents from 1999-2008, injuries were highest among workers - and the economic consequences for a workforce can be devastating in the aftermath of catastrophic incidents.”


To prevent future chemical disasters, the letter urges the EPA to prioritize prevention in updates to the RMP rule, including requiring “hazard reduction and best practice prevention measures, such as transitioning to inherently safer chemicals and processes, implementing root cause analyses following incidents, and requiring third-party audits to verify facility compliance.”


As severe weather events become more frequent, “the rule should also recognize climate change as a threat multiplier,” the members urged.


Finally, on top of prioritizing prevention, the members of Congress called on the EPA “to account for, and protect communities from, the cumulative health impacts of multiple polluting facilities” by including “common sense emergency response measures, such as back-up power, leak detection, and real-time air monitoring, along with broad and accessible information access, such as multilingual outreach before an incident occurs” in any update to the RMP rule.


“These critical updates to the RMP rule to prevent future chemical disasters will mitigate hazards to vulnerable populations and environmental justice communities, enable workers to perform their jobs safely, allow first responders to respond safely and more effectively to incidents, and empower communities to focus on protecting themselves during extreme weather events without the additional burden of toxic exposure,” the lawmakers concluded.


The letter is supported by United Steelworkers, BlueGreen Alliance, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Coming Clean, Earthjustice, Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, and the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy.


In the Senate, additional cosigners were U.S. Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).


In the House, the letter was cosigned by Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA-37), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Steve Cohen (D-TN-9), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA-11), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-3), Jared Huffman (D-CA-2), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY-12), Doris Matsui (D-CA-6), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA-4), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mark Pocan (D-WI-2), Bobby Rush (D-IL-1), Mary Scanlon (D-PA-5), Adam Smith (D-WA-9), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12).


Full text of the letter can be found here.