Senate bill would keep chemical data off Net

Senate bill would keep chemical data off Net

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

The Senate has passed a bill that would keep sensitive data about chemical plants off the Internet.

The data, submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency by chemical companies, has been the source of intense debate within the administration and on Capitol Hill in recent weeks.

EPA decided not to post the reports, which detail worst-case chemical spill and accident scenarios, after lawmakers and law enforcement agencies suggested that the information could be used by terrorists [GCN, April 12, Page 1].

The Senate bill would allow EPA to create an electronic database with protected access for state and local authorities, who want to use the information to create disaster plans.

f enacted, however, the bill would prohibit the posting of the reports on the Web and would make them exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Fuels Regulatory Relief Act, S 880, sponsored by Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), basically upholds EPA's decision to keep the reports off the Internet. The worst-case scenario reports are part of risk management plans that the Clean Air Act requires more than 69,000 chemical companies to submit to EPA.

EPA within a year will develop regulations about how such data will be distributed in the future, said Timothy Fields Jr., acting assistant administrator for EPA's Solid Waste and Emergency Response Office.

Inhofe said the bill lets officials 'talk generally to the public about off-site consequence information,' but it restricts the release of worst-case data about particular facilities.

Not so sensitive

The bill would be retroactive to June 21, the deadline by which chemical companies had to submit their plans to EPA.

'We're putting all the non-worst-case scenario data for all the facilities that submit reports online,' Fields said. 'The national security agencies do not have a problem with that information going on the Web site.'

EPA is providing specific worst-case data to the affected communities electronically using a password-protected system, he said. State and local officials have access to specific data about the plants in their communities only, Fields said.

Senate bill identifies four goals

  • Allow limited access to
    paper copies of worst-case analyses
  • Allow limited public access as appropriate
  • Provide access for official government use
  • Minimize the likelihood of accidental and criminal releases of chemicals


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