Greenpeace Starts Countdown Clock Asking: Why is Obama Letting the EPA Slow-walk Chemical Plant Safety?

by Rick Hind

April 15, 2015

Will President Obama be the champion for safer chemical plants he said he would be?

Firefighters work to put out the fire early July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic in eastern Quebec, after a train carrying crude oil derailed. The event killed 47 people, destroyed more than 30 buildings and resulted in one of Canada's largest ever oil spills.

© TSB Canada

When he was a Senator, President Obama championed legislation to prevent chemical disasters. On the Senate floor in 2006 he warned, these plants are stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.

As a candidate for in 2008, Obama made it an issue in his campaign platform, Change We Can Believe In

As President he sent representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and EPA to Capitol Hill to testify in favor of the same prevention policies that he had championed in the Senate. After the legislation was blocked by the chemical lobby in 2011 a coalition of over 100 organizations urged the President to use EPAs long standing authority under the Clean Air Act to prevent future disasters by requiring safer alternatives.

Two years ago on April 17th, following the deadly chemical fertilizer disaster in West, Texas President Obama spoke at the memorial service of the fifteen victims of that preventable calamity, most of whom were first responders, saying, we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere.

On August 1, 2013 the President appeared to put those words into action when he issued an executive order directing federal agencies to modernize their safety rules. Last May the EPA committed to finalizing new safety requirements by 2016. But two years after the disaster in West, Texas were still waiting for the EPA to begin the rule-making process. In the meantime there have been more than 350 additional chemical accidents. And there are still 466 chemical plants that each pose a catastrophic hazard to 100,000 or more people 88 of which put one million or more people at risk.

Because the EPA rarely finalizes new rules in less than 18 months, our Coalition has urged them to start as soon as possible. If they dont finish by June 2016 a new President or Congress could kill it by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), as President Bush did to important workplace safety rules in 2001.

Unfortunately, the EPA has chosen to wait until sometime in September to start this process.

To track their progress Greenpeace created a Countdown Clock on our web site. If the President and the EPA are serious about prioritizing disaster prevention, they must move up their start time to June 1st of this year so they can finalize a new rule by June 2016. After that, any new rule will be more vulnerable to the CRA.

The safety of millions of people depends on the administration finishing what they started. The EPA has been considering this issue on and off for 20 years. We finally have a President who knows how and what to do. If hes serious and wants this to be an important part of his legacy, he needs to ensure that the EPA acts as soon as possible. He’s hearing from the chemical lobby so please let him hear from you today by clicking here.

Chronology of the EPA Considering Chemical Disaster Prevention


Rick Hind

By Rick Hind

Rick is the legislative director at Greenpeace USA. Since he joined the organization in 1991, he is a go-to source for journalists covering toxics and chemical security issues. He has been quoted in a wide range of national publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, NPR, FOX, and many more.

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