A Free Ride: How Special Interests Are Undermining Chemical Facility Safety

August 1, 2016 | 1:51 pm
Yogin Kothari
Former contributor

I’ve talked about the importance of a clean budget with no riders on this blog before, and my colleagues certainly have discussed this issue at length in the past.

As I noted in April (emphasis added):

Policy riders are harmful, ideological provisions that help rig the game for special interests, and are tucked away in bills with little to no debate. Policymakers sneak inappropriate ideological riders in moving legislation because they are too controversial and divisive to pass on their own merit.

Well, I don’t want to say I told you so, but, I told you so.

During consideration of the 2017 Interior and Appropriations bill in the House, Rep. Mark Pompeo (KS) successfully snuck in seven lines that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from finalizing and implementing an important rule that would bring our chemical safety protections into the 21st Century.

Even worse, there was less than five minutes of debate.

Here is a transcript of the debate that the House of Representatives had before voting to undermine the EPA's revisions to the RMP rule.

Here is a transcript of the debate that the House of Representatives had before voting to undermine the EPA’s revisions to the RMP rule.

In fact, there was less debate on this rider than the number of minutes it took for the West, Texas fertilizer plant to explode once first responders arrived on scene.

Think about that.

A crucial public health and safety protection, a strong science-based safeguard, one that would positively impact hundreds of communities, and thousands of lives, simply overturned with almost no debate.

And it passed just on a voice vote. Not even a recorded vote. We can’t even hold representatives who would’ve approved this language accountable.

Why am I talking about this now?

Today marks the three year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s executive order entitled “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security. Issued in response to the West, Texas disaster that killed 15 people, injured 200 more, and impacted thousands in the community, the executive order asked federal agencies to modernize our chemical safety rules.

Three years later, we have very little to show for it.

So far, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed changes to the Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule earlier this year. The rule, which has been in the works for exactly three years to the day, can be significantly improved before it is finalized.

We’ve written a lot about what the agency needs to do here, here, and here.

And while it’s true that the EPA can do more, that doesn’t mean that this rule doesn’t have some good things. It represents small, but incremental progress. The rule incorporates some important prevention tools and community preparedness requirements, and could help protect fenceline communities from chemical disasters.

Further, the next president can use this rule to build upon President Obama’s executive order and continue to fight for better protections for communities and workers.

No ideological riders 

As I wrote earlier in the year, some members of Congress don’t want you to know about these poison pill riders because the provisions are special interests’ backdoor attempt to weaken science-based public protections for their own gain. And look no further than this blog post to understand which special interest probably motivated Rep. Pompeo to attack an already weak rule.

It is stories like these that illustrate why we must fight for a clean budget process with no ideological riders. It is stories like these that show why the appropriations process cannot be a playground for special interests.

This August, as your members of Congress are back home, make sure you talk to them about why we need a clean budget process, and share this story with them. When they come back to work in September, they need to be ready to fight for a clean budget process and oppose all ideological riders. Your representatives need to be motivated by you, not special interests.