January 29, 2020 / 6:55 PM / in 5 months

Fourteen U.S. states sue EPA for 'gutting' chemical plant safety protections

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fourteen U.S. states and Washington D.C. sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to fight what they called the Trump administration’s effort to gut rules meant to improve safety at chemical plants and reduce the threat of accidents.

FILE PHOTO: The Environmental Protection Agency headquarters is seen in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The states petitioned the federal appeals court in Washington to review an EPA rule finalized in December that rolls back amendments to the agency’s Risk Management Program regulations, known as the Chemical Disaster Rule.

Those amendments, enacted during the administration of President Barack Obama, required plant operators to take steps to reduce the threat of toxic chemicals being released.

The steps included greater use of outside audits, closer analysis of safety technology, and the imposition of stricter emergency preparedness requirements.

Led by New York, the states said the final EPA rule adopted last month lacks many of these protections.

“The Trump EPA is gutting critical safeguards against explosions, fires, poisonous gas releases, and other accidents at these facilities,” putting millions of people at risk, New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the agency does not discuss pending litigation.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in November that eliminating the amendments would reduce “unnecessary regulatory burdens” for plant operators.

The Chemical Disaster Rule was adopted after a 2013 explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant killed 15 people.

Wednesday’s petition followed similar litigation against the EPA in December by 13 environmental and science organizations, and this month by the United Steelworkers.

Other states joining the petition were Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. The city of Philadelphia is also a plaintiff.

Most of the petitioners are led by Democrats or lean Democratic. Obama is a Democrat, while President Donald Trump is a Republican.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Sebastian Malo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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