Other Laws: Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act
The preceding chapters have discussed many of the most important, and most used, environmental statutes. A host of other statutes, however, may apply to a given situation. Most of these statutes are administered by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (EPD).
This section includes a high-level overview of another law you may encounter in pursuing environmental justice. This law may have exemptions or nuances that are beyond the scope of this section. If you have questions, please reach out to a lawyer for assistance. In addressing any environmental justice issue, one of your first tasks will be to determine which of these laws might apply to the situation you are facing.
Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act
(42 U.S.C. §§ 11001-11050)
Congress enacted the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) to help communities safely and effectively store and handle hazardous substances.
EPCRA supports emergency response planning for chemical accidents and provides local governments and the public with information about past and potential chemical hazards in their communities.
EPCRA requires each state to appoint a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). Each SERC then divides its state into Emergency Planning Districts and names a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for each district. Broad representation in the committee by firefighters, health officials, government and media representatives, community groups, industrial facilities, and emergency managers ensures that all necessary interests are included. In tribal regions, the analogs to state SERCs and LEPCs are Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs) and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs), respectively. TERCs are designated by the chief executive officer of the federally-recognized Tribe.
The emergency planning aspect of EPCRA requires facilities with Extremely Hazardous Substance (EHSs) at or above threshold planning quantities (TPQs) to report their inventory to the SERC, LEPC, and the local fire department. The LEPC must develop an emergency response plan for those facilities and review the plan annually. Those facilities must also report chemical releases exceeding certain limits, called “reportable quantities.”
For hazardous substances that are not defined under CERCLA, the facility need only report to the SERC and LEPC. For releases of hazardous substances that are regulated under CERCLA, the facility must report to the National Response Center (NRC), an emergency call center of the federal government, in addition to the SERC and the LEPC. The NRC assigns a case number to the release report, which the EPA calls the facility’s CR-ERNS number. The facility then must use this CR-ERNS number on all future release reports or correspondence related to continuous releases from the facility.
The America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2018 amended EPCRA to extend notification and reporting requirements to community water systems, which are public water supply systems providing water to the same community year-round. Under AWIA, community water systems must receive emergency notification from the SERC of any reportable release of an EPCRA EHS or a CERCLA hazardous substance that potentially affects their source water. They must also have access to EPCRA hazardous chemical inventory data. AWIA allows community water systems to assess the risk of contamination and prioritize source water protection activities.
The community right-to-know aspect of EPCRA gives the public access to information about threats from hazardous substances.
Every March, facilities are required to submit inventory forms that identify the chemicals on site for the previous calendar year to their SERC, LEPC and local fire department, estimate the maximum amount and average daily amount of stored chemicals, and state the general location of chemical storage. Facilities may elect to withhold the storage location information from the general public; however, interested persons may make a written request to the SERC or LEPC to review this information. The public may also review any emergency response plans that have been developed.
Additionally, every July facilities are required to submit toxic release inventory forms for every toxic chemical onsite. Information on this form includes:
the name, location, and principal activities of the facility;
whether the chemical was manufactured, processed, or used at the facility;
the maximum amount present at the facility for the preceding calendar year;
the waste treatment or disposal method used; and
the quantity of any toxic entering the environment from a release.
This information is available online to the public, where you can use the search engine feature at the bottom of the webpage to find specific information.
If you are concerned about pollution from a specific facility in your community, these reports are a great way to find out what pollutants are present at that facility and whether any are being released into the environment.
For information about a facility’s chemical inventory, contact the SERC:
The SERC can also help you find your LEPC, from which you can request a facility’s chemical list or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) identifying hazardous substances over threshold quantities, the facility’s inventory forms, and the LEPC’s emergency response plan for that facility.