Under the weight of the endless scandals enveloping the now resigned Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, it might have been easy to lose sight of the substantive change to the nation’s environmental protection system that Trump and his cronies have sought to enact. Recently, in the ongoing struggle over those sought changes, the court system has handed environmental advocacy groups and Democratic attorneys general across the country a major victory.
Judges Judith Rogers and Robert Wilkins ruled that the EPA must immediately begin enforcing a chemical plant safety rule that the Obama administration had set in motion to take effect early last year. The rule demands that chemical plants be better prepared to deal with potential disasters like the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that killed 15 people.
That preparation includes measures like third-party audits and closer analysis and investigation of emergency response procedures both in the absence of any obvious looming threat and after incidents.
Pruitt — as in so many other cases with Trump administration officials and safety regulations — had pushed the idea that the rule posed an unnecessary burden for American business.
The attorneys general of a dozen states across the country said not so fast, though, and sought to use the court system to force the EPA to implement the new rule.
In a filing, they asserted:
‘Petitioners and the public have a strong interest in the court’s mandate issuing promptly, due to the serious and irreparable harm and imminent threats to public health and safety that EPA’s Delay Rule is causing.’
Now, they’ve gotten their way, and the judges in the case have demanded that the rule be implemented immediately. Notably, Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh serves as part of the particular court in question, but he didn’t involve himself in the ruling.
The court has called the EPA’s decision to push the chemical safety regulations off “arbitrary and capricious.” They’d argued, among other points, that an example pointed to as making the rule necessary — the aforementioned 2013 Texas tragedy — wasn’t actually relevant because arson had driven it, not a foreseeable glitch in operations that company officials could have planned for.
The court shot down that argument, though, noting that provisions of the chemical plant safety rule the Obama administration had set in motion in its final month were meant to protect first responders via getting information about safety procedures out to those who need it. Most of those killed in the Texas incident were first responders.
It’s the latest example of the court system shooting down Trump administration efforts to keep environmental protection rules from going into effect. Courts have supported provisions ranging from the “Waters of the United States rule,” which gives the EPA broader authority to regulate what goes into the nation’s groundwater, to a ban on the documented toxic chemical chlorpyrifos.
Trump has sought to stack the courts with judges loyal to him, but that’s hardly turned the tide and produced rulings in his administration’s favor on environmental protection issues. The rule of law is continuing to march on whether the Trump administration likes it or not.
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