Government Proposal Would Restrict Public Access to ChemicalRelease Info

EPA recently proposed regulations governing public access to information concerning the potential off-site consequences of releases from chemical facilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently proposed regulations governing public access to information concerning the potential off-site consequences of accidental chemical releases from industrial facilities.

Off-site Consequence Analysis (OCA) information, which includes "worst-case scenarios," is information collected under section 112 ( r) (7) of the Clean Air Act as part of regulated facilities'' Risk Management Plants.

The 1999 Chemical Safety, Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act required the government to assess both the chemical risk reduction benefits of allowing public access to OCA information and the increased risk of terrorists and other criminal activity from posting the information on the Internet.

The proposed rule attempts to address both of these concerns.

Under this proposal, all of the OCA information would be available to the public through several means, but it would prohibit the Internet posting of those OCA data elements that could result in a significant risk of increased terrorist or criminal activity.

Opponents of the proposed rule, like the Working Group on Community Right-To-Know, said the rule severely restricts the public''s right-to-know if toxic spills and fires at chemical plants can harm people in surrounding communities.

Paul Orum, director of the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know said the Administration has failed to even begin a Congressionally-mandated site security study of chemical plants that could be used to make sure that industries take real steps to prevent such spills.

"The Administration''s policy of secrecy plus inaction makes no sense," said Orum. "This is a know-nothing, do-nothing response to dangerous practices in the chemical industry."

"By restricting information without improving site-security and safety, the Administration makes it hard for citizens to hold their government and industry accountable, leaving communities vulnerable to dangerous industry practices," commented Orum.

Chemical fires and spills kill some 250 Americans each year. Orum pointed out that for this reason, Congress included in the Clean Air Act of 1990 a prevention program.

In this program, the public won the right-to-know what could happen in a "worst case" chemical accident at an industrial facility.

"The successful 1986 Right to Know Act disclosed many manufacturers'' toxic pollution on the Internet," said Orum. "Public disclosure is intended to save lives, prevent pollution and protect property. The public deserves to know if their safety is in danger."

The proposed rule is expected to be published in this week''s Federal Register.

Comments on the proposal must be received by June 8. There will be a public hearing May 9, in Washington, D.C.

For further information on the proposed rule, see www.epa.gov/ceppo.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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