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Two years ago on August 1, 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act to make chemical plants safer.
A lot has happened since then, both major and minor, expected and unexpected. Marriage equality became the law of the land, nations came together to fight off an Ebola outbreak, Cuba suddenly popped up in our flight searches, Donald Trump became popular in Presidential polls, the Pope joined the fight against global warming, scientists discovered the first new antibiotic in 30 years, and much more.
But over the past two years, there has also been a string of disastrous events happening in our communities, putting our families, workers, and schoolchildren at risk.
There have been over 420 chemical disasters that caused 81 deaths and over 1,600 hospitalizations since April of 2013 (just four months before the President’s Executive Order). When we don’t hear about a chemical disaster in the news for a few weeks or months, that may cause us to think they don’t happen very often, but when we look at the data gathered across the nation, it’s clear that these dangerous chemical incidents are happening disturbingly often.
Despite the President’s call to action when he issued the Executive Order, we are no safer today than we were on the day it was issued.
But this doesn’t mean we can’t become much safer in the next two years—well, 16 months to be exact. The EPA is preparing to announce a new rule next month directed at making chemical plants safer, which means the EPA will have 16 months before President Obama’s term ends to finalize the rule.
We don’t yet know what the rule will look like—whether it will include strong requirements to use the safest chemicals feasible, or whether it will simply direct companies to assess their safety options and choose the one that works best for them. If it’s a strong rule, it could almost immediately eliminate many of the chemical hazards that threaten our communities.
The chemical industry has a vested interest in business as usual, though. Currently, chemical companies can create their own voluntary safety standards, and decide on their own whether or not to make any safety improvements. The continuing pattern of chemical disasters shows that these voluntary safety measures are not working. Chemical trade groups have been fighting strong reforms for years, and they will use their considerable lobbying power to try to preserve the status quo.
That’s why we at U.S. PIRG are marshalling the power of our members, local elected officials, parents, teachers, and first-responders to make sure the EPA finalizes a strong rule before President Obama leaves office. We are also working with a diverse coalition of leading groups on this issue to show the EPA and the chemical industry that there is broad and deep support for this rule.
What will happen in the next two years? Well, we can’t predict the future—but we can do our best to change it, by standing up for a strong chemical security rule to keep our schools, communities, and workplaces safe.
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