EPA weakens safety rules put in place after fatal explosion

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The Trump administration is rolling back an Obama-era meant to protect people from dangerous chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened a safety rule related to storing potentially dangerous chemicals, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

The rule change means companies storing potentially explosive chemicals will no longer be required to take certain safety precautions that could prevent accidents. In addition, companies no longer have to make a list of the types of chemicals being stored at their sites available to the public.

The EPA claims the changes are due to national security concerns, but environmental advocates criticize the action as potentially dangerous to residents and first responders.

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It is "unconscionable that the Trump administration would gut key protections for emergency responders and people living near facilities that handle potentially dangerous chemicals," Elena Craft, senior director of climate and health with the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Post.

Tougher rules regarding chemical storage were put in place under President Obama following a 2013 explosion at a chemical plant that killed 15 people. Before the explosion, volunteer firefighters responded to a fire at the West Fertilizer Company plant. After the first responders arrived, according to the Washington Post, somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 pounds of fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate stored in the plant exploded so powerfully that the blast registered a 2.1 on the Richter scale. Of the 15 people who died, 12 were first responders.

In 2017, Trump's then-EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, called the Obama-era rules "unnecessary regulatory burdens," according to the Post.

In its justification for the rule change, the EPA claims terrorism concerns. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claims terrorists could use the locations of potentially dangerous chemicals as a road map of sorts, according to the Post.

The Trump administration has made a habit of overturning environmental actions from the Obama administration. Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, a global agreement seeking to address climate change. In November, the Trump administration gave the green light to the coal industry to dump more toxic waste into rivers and streams, and the EPA previously gutted restrictions on asbestos, a deadly carcinogen.

The EPA said the most recent weakened rule change will save companies storing chemicals $87 million per year.

"This action moves in the wrong direction when it's clear that the cost of chemical disasters is far greater than keeping communities safe," Croft told the Post.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.