Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, scolded Trump's Environmental Protection Agency on Friday for delaying a program meant to prevent incidents like Thursday's explosions at the Arkema chemical plant outside of Houston while asking for answers surrounding the incident.

The Arkema plant rocked neighborhoods in Crosby, Texas on Thursday morning with two explosions tied to severe flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The storm had cut power to the facility, which curtailed the refrigeration required to keep the chemicals it housed stable. All back-up power supplies also failed.

"I am concerned that the loss of offsite and emergency power combined with the evacuation of the facility has also reduced the facility's ability to protect against a worst-case release of toxic sulfur dioxide gas, which the facility also contains," Carper, who represents Delaware, said in a letter Friday to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Carper's committee has direct oversight over the EPA.

"In addition, I am concerned that the President's FY 2018 budget request proposed to cut the EPA program responsible for inspecting chemical facilities to ensure they are safe by almost 35 percent," Carper added. "Finally, I am also concerned that you recently decided to delay the implementation of a rule to improve the safety and emergency preparedness of chemical facilities by two years."

Carper suspects that the Arkema plant was lax in meeting its EPA-required risk planning requirements, which may have resulted in the blasts. He wants Pruitt to look into the issue and get back to him with answers by Sept. 29.

"The failure of both of Arkema's emergency backup power supply measures and subsequent evacuation of on-site personnel clearly raise questions related to the sufficiency of Arkema's Plan and its implementation," he wrote.

The Clean Air Act requires chemical facilities that store large quantities of certain dangerous chemicals to implement a Risk Management Plan to prepare "for a worst-case release of these chemicals due to an accident or a terrorist attack," Carper added. "In addition to the chemicals responsible for the explosions at the Arkema facility, the facility also contains enough toxic sulfur dioxide gas to impact those living within 23 miles of the facility if all of it was released."

Two of Carper's half-dozen questions he wants answered include:

  • In light of this incident, do you continue to support the President's FY 2018 proposed 35 percent reduction in funds for the Risk Management Plan program? If so, why? If not, why not?

  • In light of this incident, do you continue to support the two-year delay in the implementation date of the update of the Risk Management Rule you recently promulgated, and if so, why?