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December 20, 2017

Top EHS News Stories of 2017

 

 

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There’s never a dull moment in the EHS industry. Shifts in regulatory requirements, leadership, and the overall business landscape are felt readily and regularly. In retrospect, 2017 saw patterns of uncertainty and deregulation, but the big news of the year was mainly related to the environment. From fires to floods and everything in between, here’s a roundup of the top EHS news stories of the year:

 

The Clean Water Rule

 

After rescinding the Stream Protection Rule via resolution, President Trump signed an executive order on March 6th that announced the administration’s intent to review and rescind/revise the Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule, also known as the WOTUS (Waters of the United States) rule since it defines all bodies of water that fall under US federal jurisdiction, was implemented in 2015 under a provision of the Clean Water Act and defines the scope of federal water protection, especially in regards to streams and wetlands. The review faces legal challenges and changes to regulations and permitting processes remain to be seen.

The Clean Power Plan

On March 28th, President Trump signed the Executive Order on Energy Independence (E.O. 13783), which called for a review of the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP was instituted under the previous administration and aims to reduce CO2 emissions from electricity generation by 32% (relative to 2005) by 2030. After months of consideration and legislative action, the EPA announced in October that it would propose to repeal the measure, citing it as a matter of correcting federal overreach. A public hearing was held in West Virginia in late November, but the repeal proposal will be open for public comment until January 16, 2018.

Illicit Drug Use in the Workforce

According to an annual study by Quest Diagnostics released in May 2017, American workers tested positive for illicit substances at the highest rate in 12 years over the course of 2016. Drug abuse, particularly that of opioids, has become an increasingly top-of-mind issue, as the number of overdose deaths climbed to more than 64,000. 2017 also saw organizations like the NSC creating initiatives designed to tackle the opioid epidemic in the workplace.

A Historic Year for Hurricanes

The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most severe on record. In addition to devasting the lives of millions, these catastrophic storms may have been the costliest ever. The 17 named storms of the year inflicted over $200 billion dollars in damage, in comparison to the $159 billion worth of damage suffered during the 2005 season, which included Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria were particularly devastating for the southeastern US and Caribbean territories.

Chemical Plant Fire

Hurricane Harvey ripped through Texas after making landfall as a Category 4 storm on August 25th. In the wake of the storm, flooding knocked out the power to the refrigeration systems used to stabilize organic peroxides at a plant in the town of Crosby, TX. The loss of refrigeration led workers to abandon the plant and triggered evacuations of the surrounding areas. The peroxides eventually ignited, leading to two large explosions and subsequent fires. The incident sparked a national discussion on EHS preparedness in the face of increasingly frequent natural disasters.

The Paris Climate Agreement

The Trump administration gave official notice to the United Nations in August of 2017 that the US intends to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, though it can’t logistically do so until at least November of 2020. In the wake of the decision, many state and local officials vowed to stick with the standards outlined in the agreement, regardless of the level of involvement by the federal government. Later, in November, Syria announced it would join the accord, leaving the US as the only country in the world not on board.

Scott Mugno Nominated to Head OSHA

The White House announced Scott Mugno, Vice President for Safety, Sustainability, and Vehicle Maintenance at FedEx Ground, as its nominee for Assistant Secretary of OSHA in late October. Mugno, a former attorney, faced rigorous questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing in early December, particularly about how he plans to balance enforcement and encouragement policies to promote worker safety. Mugno, if confirmed, will take over as Assistant Secretary from acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Loren Sweatt.

California Burning

Though wildfires are a normal and healthy part of a forest ecosystem, a combination of strengthening winds, a long, dry summer, and increased urbanization have led to a historically destructive fire season in California. The northern firestorm that began on October 21st was over in just a few hours, but left tens of thousands of acres of wine country in ashes. The Thomas Fire in southern California, which continues to burn as of this post, has also proven extremely dangerous and is on track to becoming the largest-ever wildfire in the state.

The Largest Blackout in US History

The latter half of the hurricane season was particularly devastating for the Caribbean, with multiple storms hammering islands in quick succession. Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands on September 20th, bringing with it sustained winds of up to 150 mph. The storm leveled towns and all but eliminated the island’s power grid, creating the largest blackout in US history and a massive humanitarian crisis. Only weeks before, Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, had dealt the Caribbean and Florida a blow that triggered the fourth-largest US blackout ever. The recovery effort in the region is still on-going, and as of this post, many in Puerto Rico are still without electricity.

 

 

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