EPA may roll back chemical plant safety rules

iStock/Thinkstock(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.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Check Also

Getty_052217_Airplane.jpg

Passenger who forced Honolulu emergency landing tells FBI ‘we all have’ terroristic thoughts

Passenger who forced Honolulu emergency landing tells FBI 'we all have' terroristic thoughtsiStock/Thinkstock(HONOLULU) -- The Turkish national who forced the emergency landing of American Airlines flight 31 in Honolulu on Friday allegedly told FBI agents "we all have" terroristic ideas, and pantomimed shooting an agent during his interview, according to a criminal complaint filed in Hawaii on Monday.

En route from Los Angeles to Honolulu, 25-year-old Anil Uskanli alarmed passengers and crewmembers while acting "strange," forcing the pilot lock down the flight deck and prompting the U.S. Pacific Command to send two F-22 fighter jets to escort the aircraft into Hawaii.

F22's taking off from Honolulu to escort American Airlines flight 31 #Hawaii pic.twitter.com/8cauepQ7Yt

— Anthony Quintano 🌴 (@AnthonyQuintano) May 19, 2017

"We all have those ideas," he said when asked if he ever had terroristic thoughts.

According to the complaint, Uskanli boarded the plane without any luggage, carrying only a phone, laptop, charger, and miscellaneous items in his pockets.

Not long after he was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing at LAX after breaching a security door while under the influence, crew escorted him down the jet bridge in a wheelchair.

Once aboard the Airbus 321, he plopped into a seat in first class. At a flight attendant's repeated urging, Uskanli eventually moved to 35B, his assigned seat.

After the flight took off, Uskanli began repeatedly moving his laptop from the seatback pocket to the space under the seat, "uttering things and talking to himself," one passenger told FBI agents.

He then got up to use the lavatory, but failed to lock the door, the complaint adds. When another passenger attempted to enter the lavatory, Uskanli allegedly began "yelling and pounding on the walls."

After flight attendants escorted him back to his seat, they found what appeared to be cigarette pieces around the toilet.

A short time later, Uskanli "wrapped a blanket around his head, picked up his laptop," and shuffled towards the front of the aircraft.

A flight attendant used a beverage cart to block the aisle, but Uskanli shoved back, then set his laptop on the cart, triggering immediate alarm among the crew. The flight attendant was concerned following reports that terrorists are attempting to target aircraft with explosives concealed inside electronics, the complaint explains.

While an off-duty law enforcement officer steered Uskanli back to his seat, a flight attendant barricaded the laptop in the rear of the aircraft -- standard procedure for handling a possible explosive device. To further mitigate the impact of a potential in-flight bomb, the pilot descended to 5,000 feet, according to the complaint.

Uskanli was restrained with duct tape, witnesses say.

Upon landing, Uskanli was escorted off the flight by law enforcement, and bomb technicians and canine units seized the laptop and secured the plane. No explosives were found inside the laptop, authorities say.

Uskanli's urinalysis came back positive for benzodiazepine. Other field sobriety tests indicated he may have been high on stimulants or cannabis, according to the complaint.

During a post-incident interview with FBI agents, Uskanli "made a gun shape with his fingers and pretended to shoot,"simulated a ‘chopping motion’" at an agent's neck, and threatened to kill a female agent, according to the complaint.

Asked if he planned to hurt anyone, he told agents, "it depends on the day."

He was charged with interfering with a flight crew, and was scheduled to appear in court Monday.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.