This story was updated at 2:44 p.m. EST.
U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has frozen implementation of updated safety regulations for thousands of chemical plants, oil refineries and other industrial facilities, saying the delay is needed to consider an industry coalition's petition to scrap the new rules.
"As an agency, we need to be responsive to concerns raised by stakeholders regarding regulations so facility owners and operators know what is expected of them," Pruitt said in a news release yesterday evening announcing the three-month postponement.
The controversial regulations, published in January, were set to take effect next Tuesday. Under the stay signed yesterday by Pruitt, the effective date is now June 19.
EPA issued the regulations in response to a 2013 Obama administration executive order after an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer storage and distribution facility killed 15 people, most of them firefighters.
They are intended to strengthen efforts to head off accidents, better protect first responders from chemical exposure and do more to keep the public informed of potential risks at plants. They would apply to as many as 12,500 facilities that have to file risk management plans (RMPs) under the Clean Air Act.
But industry organizations question whether they're even needed. In its reconsideration petition to EPA, the RMP Coalition — which includes the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council and five other industry groups — sought the stay and asked EPA to rescind the final rule.
It "undermines safety" and "creates significant security risks," they wrote. EPA should also reconsider the added requirements in light of last year's finding by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that the fire that led to the explosion at the Texas facility had been "intentionally set and was the result of a criminal act," they added. Most of the coalition’s members also joined in a legal challenge filed yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The new rules are under a separate assault on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) have both introduced resolutions to repeal them under the Congressional Review Act. Pruitt, also a Republican, was previously Oklahoma's attorney general and has hired several former Inhofe staffers for top jobs at EPA (Greenwire, March 13).
Various labor organizations and safety advocates had backed stricter requirements, and in some cases wanted EPA to go further. After EPA spent years developing the new requirements, including extensive efforts to gather public feedback, the stay represents an attempt "to have industry further delay implementation of this important public health and safety rule," Ron White, an independent consultant, said today.
Welcoming Pruitt's decision was the American Petroleum Institute, another member of the RMP Coalition.
"This is an important step for providing regulatory certainty and supporting safety and security in the oil and natural gas industry," Frank Macchiarola, the institute's downstream group director, said in a news release. "Now, Congress must act to repeal this unnecessary rule, as the rule misses the mark on improving the safety and security of our nation's energy infrastructure."
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