All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Disaster-Born Safety Rules Topple in Trump Rollback

  • Chemical safety measure is latest Obama-era rule to be eased

  • White House says it can protect both public and businesses

Bloomberg News, by Ari Natter and Jennifer A Dlouhy, Nov 22, 2019

The Trump administration’s move to relax an Obama-era chemical safety regulation put in place after an explosion at a fertilizer plant is the latest example of the White House easing rules established in the wake of disasters.

Trump’s professed goal of rolling back “job-killing” regulations has led to weakening mandates proposed or enacted after three of the worst industrial accidents of the last decade: The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in Japan and 2013 derailment and explosion of an oil train in Canada.

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Smoke billows from controlled oil burns near the site of the BP Plc Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010.  Photographer: Derick E. HingleBloomberg

“There is a clear pattern of the Trump administration targeting rules that were put in place in response to massive public health, safety, and environmental disasters,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy expert with the watchdog group Public Citizen. “The public expects our government to respond to these types of public disasters with regulations that protect them.”

Backers of Trump’s drive to repeal rules say that there is a natural rush to regulate after a high-profile disaster that can go too far.

“Some of these rollbacks come with the wisdom of time to say ‘we went further then we needed to go now that we have more information,’” said Dan Bosch, director of regulatory policy for the American Action Forum, a Republican-aligned think tank.

Related: EPA Eases Safety Standards Put in Place After Deadly Texas Blast

Representatives of the White House reject the notion the rollbacks risk safety.

“Those trying to connect any health and safety risks across the country” to those efforts “are dangerously wrong — there is no evidence to support such ridiculous claims,” said Chase Jennings, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget. “The administration is focused on relieving undue burdens and protecting public health and safety.”

Still, the changes have set off alarm bells with public safety advocates.

“They have picked out some of the most important safety regulations,” said Fred Millar, an independent rail consultant. “The Trump deregulation bank has a withdrawal window that’s wide open and industry is taking advantage.”

Earlier: Rail Industry Hails Repeal of Electronic Brake Mandate

In 2015, the U.S. Transportation Department imposed regulations meant to address a series of fiery crude-train derailments, most notably the one that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Canadian officials determined that a crew member’s failure to appropriately secure the train was one of nearly 20 causes of the derailment.

U.S. regulators mandated, over the objections of the industry, electronically controlled pnuematic brakes to shorten stopping distances. But that measure was rescinded by the Trump administration, which cited a lack of research showing the brakes were better and questions over whether the benefits were justified by the costs.

In some cases, the Obama rules have been left intact while some key provisions have been eased. That opens the administration to complaints it is rolling back safeguards even when it keeps many pieces untouched.

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to rescind portions of a risk management law following the 2013 fertilizer explosion that killed 15 people in West, Texas, retained provisions cheered by safety advocates such mandating coordination with first responders and emergency exercise requirements.

But it axed mandates that required more public disclosure about what chemicals are stored at industrial sites, automatic third-party audits after accidents and a rule that companies assess safer technology options as a way of reducing risk.

Related: Trump Gives Oil Drillers More Leeway by Easing Post-Spill Rule

That was also the case with the White House’s decision to relax some of the mandates imposed by the Obama administration in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

In May, the Interior Department rewrote about a fifth of that 2016 Obama rule, easing mandates for real-time monitoring of offshore operations and third-party certifications of emergency equipment.

But the department rebuffed oil industry pressure to lift a specific requirement for how much pressure must be maintained inside wells to keep them in check. Instead, companies now can apply for exceptions to that “safe drilling margin” requirement earlier in the permitting process.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with three of its five members Trump appointees, voted 3-2 in January to strip down a rule requiring nuclear plants to upgrade their protection against flooding and earthquakes that was meant to prevent a Fukushima-style meltdown from occurring in the U.S.

The nuclear industry argues that rather than redesign facilities to address increased flood risks, it’s enough to focus on storing emergency generators, pumps, and other equipment in concrete bunkers.

Edwin Lyman, acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, disagrees.

“It’s just bad science and bad policy because of the philosophy that we are not going to impose any new regulations,” Lyman said. “It’s dismissing science, it’s not taking into account the impact of climate change that could lead to more severe flooding events.”

— With assistance by Ryan Beene

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    Area coverage of Martinez News-Gazette announced closure

    The Martinez News-Gazette will be shut down on December 29, 2019.

    Links to the story on various news outlets:

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      Martinez News-Gazette To End Publishing

      [BenIndy Editor – Question: will Gibson Publishing ALSO shut down the struggling Benicia Herald? No word on this as yet. Will keep you posted… More on the story in area news outlets here.  – R.S.]

      The current editor of the 161-year-old newspaper said he isn’t sure whether the paper will continue as an online-only endeavor.

      By California News Wire Services, News Partner
      Repost from Patch.com
      Martinez News-Gazette, 802 Alhambra Ave., Martinez
      Martinez News-Gazette, 802 Alhambra Ave., Martinez (Google Maps Street View)
      MARTINEZ, CA — The Martinez News-Gazette, which proudly boasts it has been published continuously since September 1858, told its readers Sunday morning that it will cease publishing, at least in print, with its Dec. 29 edition.
      The news came in a front-page story Sunday, which also was published on the newspaper’s website and its Facebook page.
      Rick Jones, the Gazette’s editor the past six years, said on Sunday that he isn’t sure whether the paper will continue as an online-only endeavor. The Gazette has been sustained largely by paid legal advertising, which Jones said would not carry over to online.”We do have a decent online presence and an active Facebook page,” Jones said. He said it’s hard to find longtime Martinez residents who haven’t either been loyal Gazette readers, or worked as delivery carriers for the paper, which is published twice a week.”This paper means a lot to the community,” Jones said.The Gazette’s closure announcement caused a stir on a local Facebook page called Martinez Rants and Raves. Among many members there, Sunday’s announcement came as a shock.”I am sad to hear the Martinez Gazette will not be there for our city to share local events and for parents to clip out articles and pictures about their kids activities and sports,” Martinez resident Bob DiBetta posted there. “Growing up I remember, I felt proud when my family clipped the article about our second-grade class making puppets for a local show.”The Gazette’s announcement comes after the regional East Bay Times has cut back on coverage in Martinez and other nearby cities, and after at least two upstart local print newspapers have come and gone.The Gazette is owned by Vallejo-based Gibson Radio and Publishing, which also owns newspapers in Benicia and Dixon. Jones said the Gazette has somewhere between 4,000 and 4,500 subscribers. There are only two full-time employees — Jones is one of them — and three part-timers.

      Jones said he knows he has local support; “Every person has asked me, ‘What can we do to save it?’

      “I’m really trying to get over the emotional part of it and trying to be more pragmatic about it,” he said.

      —Bay City News Service

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        5 Ways to Debunk the GOP’s Defense of Donald Trump – Attempted Crime Is Still a Crime

        Click for larger image. Source: MEME

        From The Nation: 5 Ways to Debunk the GOP’s Defense of Donald Trump…

        “…attempted crime is still crime, and Trump’s ineffectiveness is no defense for his actions. But here, it’s important to understand that the law makes no distinction between “attempted” bribery and bribery. The mere solicitation of the bribe is the crime itself, regardless of whether the bribe is paid. The law contemplates a public official who “directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value.”

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