June 8, 2000

EPA and DOJ's Worst Case Scenario Proposal

  • Susan Dudley

    Director, George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center
Key materials
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Rulemaking:

Proposed rule on the Accidental Release Prevention Requirements; Risk Management Programs Under the Clean Air Section 112(r) (7); Distribution of Off-Site Consequence Analysis Information

Stated Purpose:

"Provide access by the members of the public and government officials to this information in a ways that are designed to minimize the likelihood of accidental releases, the risk to national security associated with posting the information on the Internet, and the likelihood of harm to public health and welfare."

Summary of RSP Comment:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are proposing a rule that provides for access to information concerning the potential off-site consequences of hypothetical accidental chemical releases from industrial facilities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other representatives of the law enforcement and intelligence communities raised concerns over an EPA proposal to release this information via the Internet. As a result, Congress directed the President to determine the appropriate degree of access by members of the public and government officials in order to minimize: the likelihood of accidental releases, the risk to national security associated with posting the information on the Internet, and the likelihood of harm to public health and welfare.

Under the proposed compromise, the federal government would not post key information on the Internet that could provide terrorists or industrial spies anonymous access to sensitive information. On the other hand, the information the government will post on the Internet is unlikely to be of any public value. Information on modeling techniques and assumptions used to derive undisclosed accident scenarios involving undisclosed chemicals are unlikely to inform the public or to encourage meaningful dialog with facilities. Furthermore, identification that an address is in a "vulnerable zone," based on a hypothetical worst-case scenario, is likely to cause undue alarm. Furthermore, the proposal, while opting not to post sensitive information on government sites, would permit other organizations or individuals to post it on other Internet sites. DOJ's risk arguments for not posting this information on government web sites applies equally well to private posting of this federally-collected information.

EPA could better meet its legislated mandate with a proposal that (1) does not use taxpayer dollars to place low value, and possibly misleading information on the Internet; (2) balances the benefits of making all off-site consequence information available in reading rooms against the costs and risks; and (3) precludes other parties from broadly disseminating information that will increase the risk of harm to public health.