100 Labor, Health, Environmental Groups Urge Obama to Prevent Chemical Disasters

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Joe Smyth, Greenpeace Media, 831-566-5647, joe.smyth@greenpeace.org

100 Labor, Health, Environmental Groups Urge Obama to Prevent Chemical Disasters

WASHINGTON - A blue-green coalition of more than 100 labor, environmental, public health, and environmental justice organizations urged President Obama to take executive action to protect Americans from the risks posed by dangerous chemical facilities in a letter sent to the White House yesterday.

The coalition includes unions such as the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Steelworkers, SEIU, UAW, and the Teamsters, national environmental organizations such as NRDC, Friends of the Earth, EDF, and the League of Conservation Voters, as well as state and local organizations representing communities most at risk of a poison gas disaster, such as Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice. The letter begins: "Given the continuing gridlock in Congress, we are writing to urge you to take executive action to ensure that high-risk chemical facilities fulfill their obligation under the Clean Air Act to prevent the catastrophic release of extremely hazardous chemicals. According to chemical facility reports to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 480 chemical facilities each put 100,000 or more people at risk of a poison gas disaster."

President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have been urged to use the Clean Air Act to require safer processes at dangerous chemical plants by a chorus of voices in recent months. Most notably, former Bush EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman urged action in an April 3 letter to Ms. Jackson, noting that under her tenure, "shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the EPA seriously considered using section 112 (r) to extend the Agency’s existing responsibility for the prevention of accidental releases to include releases caused deliberately." Also, a May 4 New York Times editorial, "The Risk From Chemical Plants" concluded, "Ms. Jackson should use her authority under the Clean Air Act. Given the fierce resistance to any sensible regulation by the current group of Congressional Republicans, it may be the only way to address an all too clear and present danger." A March 14 letter from the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) noted that gaps in the current chemical plant rules "are particularly threatening to low-income and tribal communities and communities of color because they frequently reside near waste water treatment plants, refineries, and port facilities" that are exempt from the Department of Homeland Security's Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

“President Obama has sent clear signals that he will pursue initiatives that he can move forward within existing laws and without the need to wrestle with Congress.” said Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford, “Now is the time for the president to take action to protect communities from the threat of chemical disasters.”

The coalition letter also notes President Obama's 2008 campaign pledge to, "Secure our chemical plants by setting a clear set of federal regulations that all plants must follow, including improving barriers, containment, mitigation and safety training, and wherever possible, using safer technology, such as less toxic chemicals."

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