New Poll Shows Strong Bipartisan Support for Federal Requirements to Prevent Chemical Plant Disasters

Coalition Calls on President Obama to Keep His Promise on Chemical Plant Safety

Media release - October 11, 2013

WASHINGTON D.C.– A diverse coalition of more than 100 health, labor, community, environmental justice and public interest organizations released a new national poll today showing that, in the wake of the West, Texas, chemical plant explosion, American voters strongly support new federal requirements to prevent disasters at facilities that store hazardous chemicals. 

Community members, firefighters, facility workers, and others continue to suffer injury, death, and loss of homes, schools, and businesses from chemical disasters that could be avoided. The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters urged the Obama administration to adopt policies supported by the public – and long recommended by public health and safety experts and communities at risk – that would require chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes where available and affordable.

Every day, millions of people live and work in the shadow of 12,440 high-risk chemical plants that store and use highly hazardous chemicals with the potential to kill or injure thousands of workers and community residents. Eighty-nine of these facilities put more than one million people at risk. Safer, cost-effective chemicals and processes are widely available, and some facilities have already switched, but voluntary efforts are not enough – more than 100 million people are still needlessly at risk from preventable disasters.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, Inc., found:

  • A majority of likely voters believes "the federal government should require chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes"when they are effective, available, and affordable. 55% of voters agreed and only 7% opposed the idea of new safety requirements.
  • Support for federal safety requirements increases with more information. When provided with additional information – that over 100 million Americans live in high-risk zones around chemical plants and that hundreds of plants have switched to safer chemicals – support for new federal requirements increases significantly to almost a two-thirds majority across all groups, including a majority of Republicans.
  • Attacks characterizing the proposal as an unnecessary regulation that would cost jobs and increase prices fall flat.
    • 59% of likely voters agree with the statementWe must do more to protect the safety and security of millions of Americans by requiring high-risk chemical facilities to switch to safer processes and chemicals when they are available, effective and affordable. 600 facilities have already done so, proving that businesses can be both profitable and safe.”
    • 22% of likely voters agree with the statementRequiring chemical facilities to switch processes is unnecessary government bureaucracy and too expensive. We cannot afford new burdensome regulations that cost businesses money, raise the prices of goods for consumers, and threaten to cut thousands of jobs.”

On August 1st, President Obama issued an executive order requiring three federal agencies to coordinate their activities to propose new policies that will significantly enhance the safety and security of chemical facilities. Under the order, the EPA and other agencies have until October 31st to identify new policy options and until May 1st of 2014 to report their recommendations to the president.

One potential policy was undertaken after 9/11. Many water treatment plants that had been using chlorine in gas form – a highly explosive chemical in that form to disinfect and ensure clean water – switched to the non-combustible liquid form of the chemical. Many of the plants that did not switch over started to store less of the gas on the premises, making it much safer and reducing the threat that terrorism could have posed to communities.

"The current administration, which is on record supporting these same disaster prevention policies in the context of security legislation, must not wait any longer," said Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA Administrator, who proposed EPA-led chemical plant safety measures in 2002. "Reducing the vulnerability of these facilities to terrorism is not about politics – it's about public safety. It's both good policy and good politics for the Obama administration to act to secure the nation's chemical plants now."

The Coalition also announced the launch of a new website with new resources such as a citizens petition, interactive maps of high risk facility locations, President Obama’s record, letters from officials, internal EPA documents, in depth reports on hazards and safer alternatives, the coalition’s legal petition and correspondence with the Obama administration about the need for chemical facility requirements to use safer chemicals or processes.

The Obama administration has the authority to act now to enact stricter health and safety standards at chemical plants under the Clean Air Act; in fact, the EPA has more authority than any other agency to require safer chemical processes in order to prevent disasters.

For additional statements from Coalition spokespeople and leaders, please visit http://www.preventchemicaldisasters.org. Please note that community residents, firefighters, and chemical safety and security experts are available for in-depth interviews. The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters' new website also contains many resources, including a July 2012 petition to the EPA. 

The polling was performed in August by Lake Research Partners, a copy can be found on their site here: http://lakeresearch.com/news/ChemSafety/release_Chemical_Facility_Omnibus_100813.pdf

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The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters comprises more than 100 health, labor, environment, environmental justice, public health and public interest organizations who are calling on the Obama Administration to Improve chemical facility safety and security and require chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes where available and affordable. For more information, visit http://preventchemicaldisasters.org.

Contact: Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative Director, 202-319-2445

Erin Bzymek, Blue Green Alliance, 202-706-6916

Brian Gumm, Center for Effective Government, 202-683-4812

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