Rethinking EPCRA: How Much Should the Public have a Right to Know?
Although the topic for this module is disaster response this case focus of disaster response for hazardous materials
. Why? Because the majority of emergencies at the local level of government which have had a significant change on local response activities involves hazardous materials
. This issue of risk reduction and secrecy has been debated among the states since 9-11 and the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. Last year this issue was discussed at the 2002 State Emergency Response Commission Conference.
Before we proceed you must know what the EPCRA is known as in the world of disaster and emergency management. EPCRA is know as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act. (US CODE COLLECTION TITLE 42 > CHAPTER 116 CHAPTER 116 - EMERGENCY PLANNING AND COMMUNITY RIGHT-TO-KNOW SUBCHAPTER I EMERGENCY PLANNING AND NOTIFICATION SUBCHAPTER II REPORTING REQUIREMENTS SUBCHAPTER III GENERAL PROVISIONS)
EPCRA was passed in response to concerns regarding the environmental and safety hazards posed by the storage and handling of toxic chemicals. These concerns were triggered by the disaster in Bhopal, India, in which more than 2,000 people suffered death or serious injury from the accidental release of methyl isocyanate. To reduce the likelihood of such a disaster in the United States, Congress imposed requirements on both states and regulated facilities.
EPCRA establishes requirements for Federal, State and local governments, Indian Tribes, and industry regarding emergency planning and "Community Right-to-Know" reporting on hazardous
and toxic chemicals. The Community Right-to-Know provisions help increase the public's knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.
EPCRA has four major provisions:
o Emergency planning (Section 301-303)
o Emergency release notification (Section304)
chemical storage reporting requirements (Sections 311-312), and
o Toxic chemical release inventory (Section 313).
Please review the following information for this case.
During the 2002 State Emergency Response Commission Conference, Colorado expressed concern that regardless of EPCRA, risk reduction can't be achieved through secrecy. If there is important information that should be available to the public, the information should be communicated in a timely and reasonable manner. Idaho commented that since the public has access to a wealth of information under existing EPCRA guidelines, the focus must shift to a debate about who needs to know what and when.
In Idaho's opinion, the best strategy may be to modify EPCRA and determine a methodology similar to that used by law enforcement and the medical service, to restrict the flow of information to the general public. It was pointed out that in fact, many government agencies and private businesses have already modified their information dissemination procedures. Missouri indicated that many industries and government entities in that state have modified their information request procedures to conform to new legislation. Montana informed the group that its Attorney General may consider whether certain information compromises public safety and if so, issues a protective order against its release. There is some doubt however, whether a statutory exemption would fully restrict sensitive information obtained through the Internet or documentation, from the general public.
The participants were reminded that the purpose of EPCRA is to make the public more aware of what exists in their neighborhoods so that an appropriate response can occur.
The SERC chairs did not consider restriction of information to be a priority matter. North Dakota concluded that if EPCRA modification is required, the action should occur at the state level rather than federal level. Others emphasized that EPCRA was enacted to not only aid response but also to keep the information out of the wrong hands. SERCs/LEPCs should consider what information is required and then recommend procedures that local jurisdictions can use to protect the dissemination of the information. Finally, Idaho urged EPA to develop and issue consistent guidelines to ensure uniformity among the states.
Session IV. Hazardous Materials
and Homeland Security Planning
The lack of hazmat planning in rural populations generated numerous concerns. Montana and North Dakota suggested that LEPCs should establish minimum levels of performance for what they do. In Montana, several tribes have created Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs) and of these, three have combined with local and regional LEPCs. The states indicated that jurisdictions cannot build a WMD capability without first strengthening hazmat capabilities. Without question, however, short and long-term strategic planning and partnering are the places to begin.
Planning and the related involvement of appropriate local, state, and federal officials require funding sources. As in other discussions, a number of SERC chairs once again emphasized their preference for distribution of funds by the governors while others questioned excessive federal involvement in the process. They also focused on existing funding streams and associated guidelines, suggesting that greater flexibility is desired.
SERC Conclusions and Recommendations
During the final session, the following conclusions and recommendations were made:
? Enhanced SERC Involvement in Homeland Security Activities
A majority of SERC representatives indicated that if the states become engaged in homeland security planning, they should initially assess existing systems, programs, and organizational structures to avoid redundancy and an unnecessary overlap of functions ("two hats"). Moreover, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. However, they recognize that the SERC's role is dependant on interagency and intrastate coordination that typically varies from state to state While there have been no official recommendations or guidance on this issue, Charlie Biggs had indicated that FEMA is considering SERCs for an increased role in homeland security.
Many SERC representatives stated that federal agencies should increase their awareness about SERC, LEPC, and Risk Management Pan (RMP) issues, programs and planning efforts at the state and local levels.
? Development of State Strategic Plans
There was general acknowledgement that if the states develop and implement strategic plans, they must ensure that the plans incorporate multiple components such as federal guidance and requirements for mutual aid compacts. States should also address funding in the strategic plan. A majority of participants indicated that any future funding should be distributed by the federal source to the governors for allocation to state and local agencies.
? First Responders
There was extended discussion concerning the current state of training and equipment for first responders. The SERC chairs recommended that the appropriate federal agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ) aggressively act on the issue of standardized equipment and communications interoperability. An emphasis must be placed on local needs, local action, and local response as well as state and local collaboration.
? Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know
It may not be necessary to change the content of information that is currently available to first responders. While EPCRA is not an issue it may be necessary to consider better methods of communication the information at the local level that the general public needs.
Arizona recommended that NGA maintain a web site/serve as a central clearinghouse for legislation such as EPCRA information and SERC membership requirements.
? SERC and LEPC Partnerships
Again, partnerships must local action, local needs, and local response as well as state and local collaboration. The importance of partnerships should be reflected as part of the strategic plan. In addition, SERCs and LEPCs should actively promote the involvement of private industry and facilitate the adoption of mutual aid agreements between facilities. Finally, Special Environmental Projects (SEP) provide opportunities to promote relationships.
? Risk and Liability Issues
Industry Practices and standards should be considered during strategic planning activities. These include simplification and minimization of liability. State and local agencies should be aware of accident prevention, security enhancement, and risk identification and prevention activities.
Case Assignment Questions:
1) In you opinion what were the main issues expressed by the States concerning Homeland Security and states rights at the 2002 State Emergency Response Commission Conference? Please justify your position.
2) Do you believe that the State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and the Local Emergency Response Commissions (LERCs) are threatened for control of local disasters by the Department of Homeland Security? Please discuss your opinion.
3) Do you believe that the Federal government has to do more to simplify and limit liability for state and local governments and industry for certain disasters? Briefly discuss this issue.
4) What is your opinion for including industry in the strategic planning process for emergency and disaster planning?
Case assignments are due on the last day of each module. Please upload your assignment to the appropriate module for this course in CourseNet.
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