During Workers' Memorial Day on April 28, the country will honor Americans who have died from a job-related illness or injury. Relevant to that commemoration is the Department of Labor's online enforcement database, which sheds light on safety enforcement actions and company performance in protecting workers from injury, illness, and death.
In a partial victory, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that Wyoming's District Court must reconsider public disclosure requests for chemicals used in fracking fluid, and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) cannot simply claim information on fracking chemicals is protected under a trade secrets exemption. The lawsuit could set an important precedent in the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing.
On Feb. 28, Idaho became the seventh state in the country to criminalize filming abusive or otherwise unethical activities on farms. These laws (dubbed "ag-gag" laws) limit transparency and keep Americans in the dark about food safety problems. Activists, journalists, and whistleblowers play a vital role in exposing animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and other violations on farms.
As the number of chemical disasters and injuries continues to mount in 2014, evidence shows that the risks that chemical facilities present to the local communities in which they are located are greater than many residents previously understood. The Center for Effective Government has created a set of maps, showing how close many of these facilities are to schools and hospitals. The maps are helping communities press for new oversight, safer chemicals, and stronger enforcement of existing standards to prevent future disasters.
On Jan. 31, the U.S. Department of State published its long-awaited Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline, which acknowledges, for the first time, that the proposed pipeline could contribute to climate change. On Feb. 3, communities and groups across the country organized over 200 local vigils in 44 states and Washington, DC to let President Obama know the risks that the pipeline will bring. The final EIS report does not provide any recommendations on the pipeline but will be used to develop a recommendation from the State Department and in the president's final decision on the pipeline.
A new poll released Oct. 11 found that a majority of Americans want the federal government to require facilities to use safer chemicals and processes to prevent chemical disasters like the explosion in West, TX in April. However, an effort to better coordinate the work of three federal agencies was stalled thanks to the government shutdown. Now that the agencies are all functioning again, we hope they will meet their target deadlines for recommending new policies to improve the safety of facilities handling or storing large quantities of hazardous chemicals.
On Sept. 11, California lawmakers passed a controversial bill aimed at providing oversight of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil (a drilling process known as fracking). While the new law includes some of the key elements of an effective chemical disclosure policy, last-minute, industry-friendly amendments forced into the bill undermine its ability to protect the health and safety of California residents.
Climate change has become the largest environmental concern in decades, and transparency and accountability will be critical in providing an effective response to combating it. As we move forward in making new policies related to climate change, it is critical that the public be well informed about the issue. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool offering users a means to explore the sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
On June 7, a panel of federal judges ruled that international trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. This decision, coupled with the unprecedented secrecy surrounding the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which kicks off the 18th round of negotiations in two weeks), strips the American people of their voice and overrides the principle that public support or opposition of such agreements should guide U.S. policy.
On June 13, an explosion and fire occurred at a petrochemical plant in Geismar, LA (just south of Baton Rouge), killing one person, injuring at least 70, and forcing residents within a two-mile radius of the plant to stay indoors. The Williams Geismar olefins plant explosion was just the latest in a string of chemical accidents, highlighting the risk that hazardous chemicals can pose to workers and communities and the urgent need to shift to safer chemicals.
On May 23, the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013. The bill would amend the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the nation's primary and outdated chemical safety law. Despite being promoted as a significant reform, the proposed legislation fails to improve the health and safety protections missing from current law. As it stands, it represents a significant retreat from the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 that Lautenberg introduced earlier this year. The earlier bill should be the senator’s legacy.
On May 16, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a revised proposed rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal public lands (commonly referred to as fracking). The new proposed rule not only ignores concerns about the public health and environmental risks of the natural gas drilling method, it also disregards recommendations by lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Energy's Shale Gas Production Subcommittee, which called for transparency and full public chemical disclosure. The proposed rule suggests the agency has placed industry concerns ahead of public health and safety. It also contradicts the new data standards the Obama administration issued just last week by executive order.
Anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate are the two substances that have been investigated as possible causes of the April 17 explosion of the West Fertilizer Company plant in Texas. Though experts now believe the explosion was due to the ammonium nitrate, the facility did have two 12,000-gallon tanks of anhydrous ammonia, which could have exacerbated the tragedy in Texas had they leaked or exploded.
On April 17, there was a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in central Texas, which killed at least 14 people and injured more than 200. Though investigators are still trying to determine the exact cause of the incident, the West Fertilizer Company's explosion raises serious questions about managing the risks that facilities can pose to local communities.
The Keystone XL pipeline is a controversial project that would transport tar sands oil (which is more corrosive than crude oil) from Canada through America's heartland to Texas, creating air, water, and public health risks in its wake. In the past two weeks, lawmakers have introduced bills in both the House and Senate to strip the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline away from the Obama administration. The bills, if passed, would short-circuit the regulatory permitting process and prevent the public from voicing their concerns about the public health and environmental risks of the pipeline.
Illinois would have the strongest protective oversight rules on fracking in the country under legislation introduced on Feb. 21 in the General Assembly. The bill includes nearly all the key elements for an effective chemical disclosure policy identified in a previous Center for Effective Government report. The bill represents stronger model legislation for states that want to protect the public from the health and environmental risks of fracking.
On Feb. 8, EnergyWire released a leaked draft proposal from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management on natural gas drilling and extraction on federal public lands. If finalized, the proposal could greatly reduce the public's ability to protect our resources and communities. The new draft indicates a disappointing capitulation to industry recommendations.
On Feb. 5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new data indicating that in 2011, the oil and natural gas sector was the second-highest contributor of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. A method of natural gas drilling, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is a major component of this industry. Given this data and its stated commitment to addressing climate change, the Obama administration will have to reconsider its strong support of natural gas production.
Total releases of toxic chemicals in the U.S. increased for the second year in a row according to Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data reported to and analyzed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The TRI program, established as a part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, requires the EPA to make information on the release and transfer of toxic chemicals (above a certain threshold) available to the public in order to provide Americans with a better understanding about toxic pollution in their communities.