Readers will probably remember that back in early January I wrote about the EPA’s plans to restore public internet access to certain risk management program (RMP), access that was removed shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Last week the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee finally got around to formally objecting to the plan as it could “compromise the security of manufacturing facilities by handing over sensitive information to terrorists”.
The Committee letter to Administrator Jackson is a long delayed (they were notified of this plan back in December) knee-jerk reaction that completely overlooks the fact that this information has already been posted to a number of environmental web sites. It compounds their delay by demanding that EPA responds by February 24th (two weeks) on its “plans to fulfill its responsibilities to protect non-OCA information”.
The letter notes three current laws that require the sharing of this information with State and local agencies. The Clean Air Act provision cited provides a requirement to share the information, but includes no mechanism to ensure that it is shared or acted upon. The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know provisions are also toothless, especially since there is a not surprising dearth of local emergency planning commissions (no funding has been made available for them). And the third is a permissive clarification on allowing the sharing of sensitive but unclassified information with law enforcement and first responder personnel.
None of those provisions have had any serious effect on ensuring that individuals living or working near chemical facilities holding significant quantities of dangerous chemicals have access to the information that could save their lives or protect their financial investments in their homes. Nor do they ensure that local activists have the information they need to force local government agencies into the emergency planning process that Congress has only given lip service to.
I’m sorry, I am a strong advocate for chemical facility security, but this planned action by the EPA will do more to increase chemical safety at the community level than it will to increase the risk of a terrorist attack on those facilities. An intelligent risk-benefit analysis (an idea foreign to Congress) would support the EPA’s planned information sharing.