By John Deans, Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace USA
With the media flurry since the West, Texas explosion it would seem that chemical disasters are somehow a new issue. Yet, communities who live near these facilities and workers who operate them have lived with these dangers for decades. President Obama, too, has talked about the need for action on this issue since his early days in politics. As early as his book The Audacity of Hope in 2006 he said “…let me suggest at least one area where we can act unilaterally and improve our sanding in the world – by perfecting our own democracy and leading by example. When we continue to spend tens of billions of dollars on weapons systems of dubious value but are unwilling to spend the money to protect highly vulnerable chemical plants in major urban centers, it becomes more difficult to get other countries to safeguard their nuclear power plants.”
Greenpeace is a member of The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters which has just released a video with some of these quotes and a call for the President to live up to his sentiments, watch and share:
Consistent with these quotes and the many others was his historic executive order issued on August 1, 2013. This order directs his agencies who deal with chemical plants to use current regulatory authority to come up with better solutions to prevent chemical disasters. It just so happens there is a solution consistent with the President’s long-standing position.
The first three month period of the Executive Order is quickly coming to a close, ending on November 1st. This is the phase where agencies are drafting options, or possible new programs they could create to make communities safer from these dangers. The best solution is the one Greenpeace and our allies have been calling for: the safest chemical plants are the ones that use chemicals and processes that don’t carry with them a catastrophic disaster risk. For instance, in the case of West, Texas, if they had been using a safer form of ammonium nitrate, we might not have seen that massive explosion and the 15 people who tragically lost their lives might have been home with their families that night.
There are thousands of plants around the country that use these dangerous chemicals, whether it’s explosive, like ammonium nitrate, or a poison gas like chlorine or hydrofluoric acid. The shocking news is that most of these facilities can change to something safer, but most refuse to do so.
What can be done? Well, under the executive order the EPA could implement a new disaster prevention program using authority under the Clean Air Act. This would require facilities to implement safer alternatives where feasible (and it is feasible), which could reduce the disaster risk on a large scale. As a member of The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters we need you to raise your voice and call the White House. Tell the President that you want him to direct the EPA to use their authority and make all of us safer. Don’t let the President break his record on chemical disaster prevention.