Urge President Obama to use his authority to prevent chemical disasters

chemical security now

It’s hard to ignore the monthly news reports of a chemical release and or of a train derailment transporting chemicals that serve these facilities across the United States.

There are 3,433 chemical facilities that put 134 million at risk of a chemical disaster in the United States.  

A study released this year revealed one out of every ten children attending public schools in the U.S. are located within a mile of a facility that stores or uses toxic chemicals, at levels that could result in a major catastrophe.

The bulk use and storage of poison gases like chlorine at chemical facilities and wastewater and drinking water plants puts millions of Americans at risk of a Bhopal magnitude chemical disaster. Just 300 of these plants put a third of Americans at risk. But some communities no longer face these risks because they switched to safer chemical processes. For example, Washington, DC converted their waste water treatment plant 90 days after the 9/11 attacks. Before 9/11 their use of chlorine gas put 1.7 million people at risk.

President Obama's Department of Homeland Security and Environmental Protection Agency have consistently asked Congress for the authority to remove these risks by requiring the use of safer chemical processes where feasible. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have blocked these efforts. In 2013 the President took the first step by issuing an Executive Order (#13650) directing the EPA and other agencies to modernize safety rules for chemical facilities. Those agencies are behind schedule in proposing new regulations by 2016 that require plants to operate their facilities in a way that prevents catastrophic release of poison gases. 

Tell the President to use his authority to implement these changes under the Clean Air Act and require new regulations that lead with the safest alternatives. 


President Obama: Prevent Chemical Disasters

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to urge you to take prompt and decisive action to address a danger that you have highlighted for a decade the threat to our communities and workers from accidents or deliberate attacks on U.S. chemical plants. With all due respect, your Administration is running out of time to make a real difference on this critical issue.

I was encouraged, after the tragic West, Texas disaster in April 2013, that you issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to modernize their safety regulations. As a result, the EPA is now considering new regulations, but has postponed issuing a draft until September. Waiting until then to begin a process that could take more than a year is likely to put the final rule in serious jeopardy.

Your past leadership on preventing chemical disasters has been unparalleled. The millions of people living and working within high risk zones near hundreds of chemical facilities are counting on you to prevent future tragedies. To ensure that new rules do take effect, they must be finalized well in advance of the end of your administration's term in office.

In 2006, as a U.S. Senator, you stated emphatically that "these plants are stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country." According to a December 2014 Congressional Research Service analysis, 466 of these facilities each put 100,000 or more people at risk of a catastrophic disaster.

Fortunately, safer cost-effective chemical processes are widely available. Since 2001, hundreds of chemical facilities have switched to safer chemical processes and eliminated these risks to 40 million people in 47 states. While this is encouraging, reliance solely on voluntary efforts has left more than 100 million people in the U.S. at risk of death or injury because they live and work inside "vulnerability zones" surrounding these high-risk chemical facilities.

The Clean Air Act provides the EPA with authority to require chemical facility owners and operators to use safer processes that will reduce or eliminate the potential for a catastrophic chemical incident. Safer processes are the only foolproof way to eliminate or dramatically reduce the loss of human life in such an event, whether it is triggered by an accident, natural disaster, or terrorism.

In your 2008 book Change We Can Believe In you promised, "An Obama Administration will...[s]ecure our chemical plants by setting a clear set of federal regulations that all plants must follow, including improving barriers, containment, mitigation and safety training, and wherever possible, using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals."

On April 3, 2012, Governor Whitman wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging the use of "authorities you can apply to reduce these hazards before a tragedy of historic proportions occurs." And following the West, Texas, disaster, then-EPA Administrator Jackson told MSNBC, "We need to use the authority we have now."

I respectfully urge you to finalize new disaster prevention rules that will eliminate these catastrophic hazards wherever feasible as soon as possible.

Thank you for your leadership on this important issue.

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