Strengthen Chemical Disaster Regulations

Style Magazine Newswire | 7/23/2021, 9:03 a.m.
At a public comment session hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. …
Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee advocates for EPA to strengthen chemical disaster regulations after Trump rollbacks

At a public comment session hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee proposed reinstatement of chemical disaster rules rolled back by the Trump administration, and enhancing rules to address Harris County’s unique vulnerability to chemical disasters.

Menefee stated: “Harris County has the largest petrochemical complex in the US and a history of severe weather events—we’re vulnerable to large scale chemical disasters that impact residents. Our communities weathered through Arkema, ITC, Watson Grinding, and other incidents, and we saw that these explosions and fires impact people’s lives. People die. Homes are destroyed.

"Communities are forced to evacuate because toxic chemicals are in the air. The EPA must enact rules strong enough to ensure that industry is doing its part to prevent these events, and that when the smoke is in the air, emergency responders have all the information they need to mitigate the damage and save lives.”

The listening sessions come after years of fighting by the Harris County Attorney’s Office and several state Attorneys Generals for regulations to reduce the number of explosions and other incidents at chemical facilities and improve communication with surrounding communities and emergency responders.

The Obama administration’s EPA had imposed several rules in response to the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. In 2019, the Trump administration rolled back many of these commonsense requirements, including requiring chemical companies to determine the root cause of spills and explosions, and training requirements chemical plant supervisors.

In response, Harris County, 14 states, and two cities sued the Trump administration to invalidate the rollbacks. Harris County was the only governmental entity in Texas involved in the lawsuit.

Harris County Attorney Menefee also proposed additional enhancements to the rules, including expanding the list of chemicals covered by the rules, requiring facilities to have safety plans in place to endure severe weather, and improving coordination with first responders.

The Harris County Attorney’s Office will also submit written comments to the EPA, detailing proposed enhancements to the rules.