Do you live near a dangerous chemical plant? You might know you do, or you might live in a city like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles and not even realize that you live near a facility that puts you at risk every day. You might also work at a hospital that could be overrun by the casualties from a chemical disaster, or work for the fire or police department that has to respond to such an event. Even if that isn’t the case, you likely live very near any of the major railroads that are carting lethal gases through your community every day.
On behalf of these communities, over 100 organizations representing workers, disproportionately impacted communities, healthcare professionals, and environmentalists have repeated their request to President Obama that he use his authority under the Clean Air Act to prevent chemical disasters. And it is not just these organizations and the communities they represent, the New York Times has asked for the EPA to take action, and so has the former Administrator of the EPA under President Bush, Governor Christine Todd Whitman, whose call followed the formal request of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Congressional Republicans have stymied efforts to correct what the New York Times calls a “clear and present danger,” but the Obama Administration has advocated strongly for a comprehensive policy that would focus on preventing a chemical disaster by using safer technologies, instead of just focusing on fenceline security. President Obama has been clear that he will move his agenda forward with or without Congress and when it comes to the dangers from chemical plants, he has the tools to do just that.
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 knows about this risk and in his 2008 campaign plan “Change We Can Believe In” he pledged 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.”
Now is the time for the president and the EPA to act on this campaign pledge. This Congress has become captive of the chemical companies that want their profits to trump the safety and security of the public and has failed to pass any law that would focus on disaster prevention. President Obama needs to now take the reigns and fully implement the Clean Air Act protections that will make our communities safer.