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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, as part of a multistate coalition, announced the filing of a comment letter in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to strengthen chemical accident prevention regulations. There are currently 12 refineries operating in California and many more chemical plants. California has long had a robust chemical accident prevention program including some provisions which are stronger than their federal counterpart. EPA’s proposal would match some of those provisions and in other respects go further, imposing additional safety requirements on California facilities. A stronger federal rule would also benefit California by driving a nationwide effort to identify safer alternatives and safer designs for hazardous chemical use. In the letter, the attorneys general urge the EPA to finalize its chemical accident prevention program and highlight areas where the EPA could enhance the proposed safety requirements.
“Refineries and chemical plants are often located where Californians live, work, and go to school,” said Attorney General Bonta. “While California has strong regulations in place to prevent chemical accidents, we’re urging the federal government to go even further by establishing strong national standards to protect people from hazardous chemicals. We need innovation to reduce the risk associated with hazardous chemical use. Environmental justice communities are already suffering from disproportionate pollution burdens and the resulting health risks — they should not have to also worry about a chemical accident threatening their health and safety.”
Chemical accidents, including explosions, and releases of hazardous chemicals are an inevitable part of the operation of large, complex facilities using highly hazardous materials. The worst cases include large explosions and large releases of toxic gases or liquids, causing multiple injuries or deaths. Since 2001, there have been at least five chemical accidents in California large enough to require investigations by the United States Chemical Safety Board. Smaller accidents are even more prevalent. These chemical plants and refineries are disproportionately located in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the state.
In the letter, the coalition expresses their support for the EPA’s proposal to strengthen the federal chemical accident prevention program, particularly the provisions addressing refineries that use hydrofluoric acid, commonly referred to as “HF,” in their alkylation processes. HF is a uniquely hazardous chemical that when released can form a toxic, ground-hugging cloud that can travel far outside refinery boundaries that irritates the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract, and at high exposure levels can cause cell damage and even death. Two refineries in California use HF in their alkylation processes: the former ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, now owned by the Torrance Refining Company, and the former Ultramar refinery in Wilmington, now owned by Valero Energy Corporation. Both HF-using refineries are adjacent to disadvantaged communities.
Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as Harris County, Texas, in filing the comment letter.
A copy of the letter is available here.