Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
Washington, D.C., August 4, 2000 – “Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) finalized a rule that will enable environmental and other activist groups to post sensitive information on the Internet,” said Angela Logomasini, director of risk and domestic environmental policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
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The rule addresses availability of “off-site consequence analysis” (OCA) data, which the Clean Air Act mandates that facilities develop as part of “risk management plans.” These plans are supposed to help facilities prevent and prepare for potential accidental chemical releases. The OCA sections detail the possible impacts of an accidental release under “worst-case scenario” conditions, identifying how many fatalities and injuries a catastrophic release could cause.
The law demands that the EPA make risk management plans available to the public, but when EPA announced it would post OCA data on the Internet, the FBI, the CIA and other security organizations objected. They fear that such posting could give terrorists anonymous access to a searchable database of potential targets. The EPA eventually agreed not to post the information, but “environmental advocates” indicated that they will access the information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and post it themselves. In response, Congress passed legislation exempting the information from FOIA and requesting that the DOJ and the EPA issue a rule that would allow for public disclosure in a way that minimizes security risks.
“The agencies did not meet the objective of the law. Under this rule, activist groups can still access and post the sensitive information online,” noted Logomasini. The rule makes the OCA data available in 50 reading rooms throughout the nation and at state and local emergency planning committee offices. Reading rooms must limit individuals to 10 files per month, but there are no limits at emergency planning committees. At these locations, viewers may take notes, but they cannot make photocopies.
“The rule makes posting the information a bit more difficult, but far from impossible,” said Logomasini. “The agency states in the rule that it will post most of the OCA information online. Activists can then simply access the information and fill in the blanks,” said Logomasini.
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