The French company that says its Houston-area chemical plant is spewing “noxious” smoke — and may explode — successfully pressed federal regulators to delay new regulations designed to improve safety procedures at chemical plants, according to federal records reviewed by International Business Times. The rules, which were set to go into effect this year, were halted by the Trump administration after a furious lobbying campaign by plant owner Arkema and its affiliated trade association, the American Chemistry Council, which represents a chemical industry that has poured tens of millions of dollars into federal elections.
The effort to stop the chemical plant safety rules was backed by top Texas Republican lawmakers, who have received big campaign donations from chemical industry donors.
Representatives from Arkema Americas and the American Chemistry Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In 2013, a West, Texas, chemical plant explosion killed 15 people, prompting the Obama administration to try to raise chemical plant safety standards (investigators later found the explosion was caused deliberately). In an executive order that year, President Obama proposed an overhaul of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Program with the goal of increasing safety and transparency at chemical plants by strengthening existing regulations. The EPA said the enhanced rules would “seek to improve chemical process safety, assist local emergency authorities in planning for and responding to accidents, and improve public awareness of chemical hazards at regulated source.”
Arkema has six production plants in Texas and has received more than $8.7 million worth of taxpayer subsidies from the state. Arkema’s Crosby plant — which OSHA fined more than $90,000 for ten “serious” violations earlier this year and has spewed smoke in Crosby — appears to be covered under the existing EPA rules because of the kinds of chemicals it uses. While Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has given chemical companies legal cover to hide the locations of their EPA-regulated chemicals, the Associated Press reports that the imperiled Arkema facility houses large amounts of toxic sulfur dioxide and flammable methylpropen, which required Arkema to submit a risk management plan to the agency — and which would have subjected the company to the strengthened safety rules.
However, those rules — which would have taken effect on March…