Remember the chemical plant explosion in West, Texas that killed 15 people that prompted the drafting of new EPA safety rules? EPA administrator Scott Pruitt just rescinded them.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Pruitt was repealing an Obama-era rule that would require plants to disclose to the public what kinds of chemicals and how much of each chemical they were storing, as well as require additional training for employees at chemical plants and guidance on how investigations should be conducted. While Pruitt delayed the implementation of the rule last year in order to give the chemical industry more time to object to the rules, his decision Thursday will eliminate the rule altogether.
On April 17, 2013 — just days after the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured 264 others — a fire at the West Fertilizer plant caused a massive explosion triggered by an ample supply of ammonium nitrate (the same chemical used in the Oklahoma City bombing) that took the lives of 15 people and injured 252 others, while damaging roughly 500 buildings. To put the size of the blast in perspective, the population of West is just 2,800, meaning almost 10 percent of the town’s population was injured in the blast.
Local firefighters told The Washington Post’s Dan Zak that the fire and explosion was the worst they’d ever seen. West residents described the moment the fertilizer plant exploded to Zak in horrifying detail:
A scythe of light swept over the ground. The earth collapsed upward around the plant. Fiery hunks of metal and concrete streaked away like meteorites returning to space. A rippling dome of air bloomed from the explosion, crushing the firetrucks, racing out in a wall of pressure, flattening grass.
It threw Robby Payne, the funeral director, into a metal tank. It heaved Tommy Muska, the mayor, backward six feet. It pushed the rails of the train track together into one ribbon of steel, and it tipped over a rail car containing 200,000 pounds of fertilizer. It blew out the back walls of the apartment complex, and then the front walls, carrying some residents into the parking lot.
Scott Pruitt justified the elimination of the rule, saying the reduction in regulations would improve emergency planning and response. However, Environmental Working Group spokesman Alex Formuzis accused the industry-friendly EPA administrator of “hollowing out” safety regulations.
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.