(WASHINGTON) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has delayed regulations that were made in response to a 2013 explosion that occurred at a fertilizer storage plant in West, Texas, killing 15 and injuring hundreds.
The date of the rule focusing on preparing for chemical accidents has been delayed to June 19, according to the EPA. The public comment period for the rule has been extended to May 13, which will allow time for the agency to decide if it wants to delay the rule even further.
Last December, the Obama administration put the regulations in place in response to the explosion of the West Fertilizer Co. plant in West, Texas, in April 2013, according to Hillary Cohen, a spokesperson for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent U.S. federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.
The regulations, which were based on the CSB’s recommendations, were devised to set standards for how companies that own chemical plants, like West Fertilizer Co., communicate with their local communities, so that residents and first responders can prepare in advance for accidents like the explosion that took place.
Cohen told ABC News that her organization recommended the regulations primarily in order to keep people better informed of what was happening in a given facility.
“The CSB’s investigation of the West Fertilizer accident found significant gaps in information critical to first responders. The EPA’s proposed rule was in part a response to our findings and recommendations,” Cohen said. “In the final analysis, facility employees, communities and first responders should have adequate information to understand the risks inherent in such facilities, to ensure everyone’s safety.”
The American Chemistry Association, a lobbying arm for the industry, expressed “concerns” with the regulations, and promised to undertake an effort to review them.
Pruitt, 48, Oklahoma’s former attorney general, was narrowly confirmed by the Senate for his EPA post in February. President Trump has said he wants to roll back many Obama-era regulations created by the agency.
Industry groups submitted a petition to Pruitt in February, formally asking him for the kind of delay that was implemented this week, saying that “an administrative stay is appropriate and necessary while the agency considers and addresses the numerous flaws” in the regulations.
Pruitt issued a statement on the EPA’s website on Monday, saying the agency needs time to reconsider the Obama-era regulations.
“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 wrote.
Twelve of the 15 people who died at the West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion in 2013 were first responders, according to Frank Patterson, who led FEMA’s response to the incident.
Firefighters responded to a fire at the plant and began evacuating people in the vicinity.
Shortly thereafter, an explosion tore through a four-to-five block radius, leveling roughly 80 homes and a middle school and trapping 133 residents of a nursing home in rubble. The blast was so powerful, residents said, that it shook the ground. There were even reports of people hearing it several miles away, according to an ABC News report published at the time.
Patterson declined to comment on Pruitt’s decision to delay the regulations until he could appraise the agency’s final decision, but told ABC News that the man-made disaster was the worst such incident he had encountered in his career in emergency management.
“I was headed to what I was told was a fire, and when I got there I realized how bad it was,” Patterson said, referring to the 300 people who were injured by the blast.
“For me, it was a pressure situation and I think everybody who responded to the incident felt that pressure,” he added.
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