By Jeryl L. Olson

On December 7, 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified interested parties, including state and local communities that EPA considers major stakeholders in the Risk Management Program (40 CFR Part 68), that EPA is going to re-establish Internet access to certain portions of the Risk Management Program database beginning in July 2012. The Risk Management Program arises under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act, and relates to prevention of chemical accidents. The rules are applicable to facilities that produce, handle, process, distribute or store in excess of threshold quantities, any of approximately 80 chemicals listed under 40 CFR § 68.130. Facilities subject to the rules must submit Risk Management Plans (RMPs) to EPA for use in emergency and preparedness planning. EPA uses the information to build and maintain a database of facilities using the listed chemicals, and includes the risks to the public associated with the use of those chemicals. The database currently includes RMPs from approximately 13,000 facilities.

EPA maintains two categories of information contained within RMPs: (1)  off-site consequence analysis (OCA) information,  which includes the descriptions of regulated facilities, worse case release scenarios, and alternative (more likely) release scenarios; and (2) non-OCA information which includes facility registration information, information about histories of serious releases from regulated facilities, and accident prevention and emergency response programs at facilities.  

Although the non-OCA sections of RMPs were originally available to the public via EPA’s Internet website, shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 EPA removed all RMP data from the Agency website.  EPA has indicated that since that time it has received repeated FOIA requests for access to the non-OCA portions of RMPs and believes that restoring public access to this information will be useful to the members of the public, particularly to public sector EPA partners such as police, firefighters, medical emergency responders, emergency management planners, State Emergency Response Commissions, and Local Emergency Planning Committees.

Although there are certain restrictions to public access to OCA information, it is EPA’s position that there are no legal restrictions on the distribution of non-OCA RMP information such as histories of accidental releases,  and facilities’ accident prevention and  emergency response programs.  For this reason, EPA intends to make this information available to the public beginning in July 2012.  EPA is seeking feedback from shareholders to address questions and concerns regarding the publication of non-OCA information on the Internet.  Feedback will NOT be collected under the normal public notice and comment procedures of federal rulemaking, but rather will be accomplished by commenters’ calling or emailing the Office of Emergency Management.