Last month Rep Blunt-Rochester (D,DE) introduced HR 861,
the Alerting Localities of Environmental Risks and Threats Act of 2021. The
bill would amend the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA)
to require covered facilities to hold public meetings about any reportable
release and annual meetings about reportable chemicals held on-site.

Post-Release Meetings

Section
2(a)
of the bill would require facilities subject to the incident reporting
requirements of 42
USC 11004
, in the event of a reportable release, to hold a public meeting
about the incident. Public notice of the meeting would be posted within 72
hours of the release. The meeting would provide the attending public with the
reportable information set forth in §11004(b)(2).

Annual Meetings

Section
2(b)
of the bill would add a new §306 to EPCRA that would require
facilities subject to EPCRA reporting requirements to hold an annual public
meeting to provide the attendees with information about the covered chemicals
held on site. The information would include {new
§306(2)
}:

• The chemical name of each
substance on the list published under section 302(a) [42
USC 11002
(a)] that was present at such facility, in an amount in excess of
the threshold planning quantity established for such substance under such
section, at any time in the preceding calendar year,

• An estimate of the maximum amount
of each such substance present at such facility during the preceding calendar
year, and

• The details of the methods and
procedures to be followed to respond to a release of such a substance pursuant
to the applicable emergency plan prepared under section 303(c) [42
USC 11003
(c)].

The section specifically allows the facility to maintain
existing trade secret protections under §11042.

Moving Forward

Blunt-Rochester and three of her ten cosponsors {Matsui
(D,CA), Schakowsky (D,IL), Soto (D,FL)} are members of the House Energy and
Commerce Committee to which this bill was referred for consideration. This
means that there should be sufficient influence for this bill to be considered
in Committee. Republicans could be expected to oppose this bill because of ‘security
concerns’ (see more in the Commentary section below). The bill would be
expected to pass in Committee and on the floor of the House along mainly party
lines.

Commentary

This bill addresses an on-going issue about the information
that the public is entitled to know about the hazardous chemical inventories at
local facilities. EPCRA was intended to ensure that the public was aware of the
potential chemical threats in their communities. Up until 2001, the EPA maintained
a searchable web site that made the information reportable under EPCRA
available to the public. After the 9/11 attacks, however, that web site was
taken down due to concerns that it provided potential terrorists with too much
valuable information for planning their next attack. The information is still
available to the public, but only in-person at a limited number of EPA
Reading Rooms
around the country.

I think that the very moderate language in this bill goes a
long way to balancing those twin concerns, community right-to-know and
security. Just as terrorists would not be expected to access this information
via the Reading Rooms, they would probably no expose their interest by
attending these public meetings.

My only concern is that the bill does not tie this reporting
requirement in with the emergency planning requirements of §303 (§11003).
Of course, individual facilities are not responsible for those requirements.
That falls on the Local Emergency Planning Committee established under §301(c) {§11001(c)}.
I would suggest that the following additions be made to the language in this
bill to establish this relationship.

First under §2(a) I would add a paragraph (3)(C):

“(C) the facility will invite
the Local Emergency Planning Committee to provide meeting attendees that would
be prepared to provide a description of the emergency response plan (ERP) required
under §303 (42 USC 11003) that was in effect when the incident occurred and any
lessons-learned from the actual incident response that would be used to modify
the ERP going forward.”.

Finally, under the proposed new §306 I would add a new §306(3):

(3) The facility will invite the
Local Emergency Planning Committee to provide meeting attendees that would be
prepared to describe the emergency response plan required under §303 (42 USC
11003).

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