EPA at 50: Better Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Efforts to Protect the American Public
Washington (September 14, 2020) – As part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 50th anniversary commemoration, this week, the agency is highlighting progress made on prevention and readiness planning for chemical and hazardous substance releases and oil spills.
“Spills and releases can occur unexpectedly and with little to no warning and so preparation for these unplanned events is vital,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Peter Wright. “EPA works closely with other federal agencies, states, tribes and local governments to prepare for and have plans in place to respond rapidly and effectively to emergencies.”
Over the years, EPA has continued to effectively implement the laws that support better planning and response to man-made environmental disasters. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed in 1986 in response to concerns regarding the environmental and safety hazards posed by the storage and handling of toxic chemicals. These concerns were focused in part by the 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India, caused by an accidental release of methylisocyanate, an incident that killed thousands of people and severely injured thousands more.
To reduce the likelihood of such a disaster in the United States, Congress imposed requirements for federal, state and local governments, tribes and industry. These requirements covered emergency planning and "Community Right-to-Know" reporting on hazardous and toxic chemicals. The Community Right-to-Know provisions help increase the public's knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety, prepare for emergencies and protect public health and the environment. This information also helps responders safely respond to accidents like the recent fire at Biolab in Lake Charles, Louisiana and the chlorine release at Custom Alloy Light Metals in City of Industry, California.
In 1996, EPA published the Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule on chemical accident prevention at facilities that use certain extremely hazardous substances and updated the regulations recently. The RMP rule requires facilities that use listed extremely hazardous substances above threshold quantities to develop an RMP which:
- Identifies the potential effects of a chemical accident.
- Identifies steps the facility is taking to prevent an accident.
- Spells out emergency response procedures should an accident occur.
These plans provide valuable information to local fire, police, and emergency response personnel to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies in their community. Making RMPs available to the public also fosters communication and awareness to improve accident prevention and emergency response practices at the local level.
EPA has also made significant progress in oil spill preparedness and prevention. Originally published in 1973 under the authority of §311 of the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation sets forth requirements for the prevention of, preparedness for, and response to oil discharges at specific non-transportation-related facilities which meet the rule’s applicability requirements. The goal of this regulation is to prevent oil from reaching navigable waters and adjoining shorelines, and to contain discharges of oil. The regulation requires these facilities to develop and implement Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans and establishes procedures, methods, and equipment requirements.
In response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). The OPA addressed issues associated with preventing, responding to and paying for oil pollution. In response to OPA, EPA promulgated requirements in 1994 that required a subset of SPCC facilities to prepare and submit a Facility Response Plan (FRP) outlining the facility's preparedness to respond to a worst-case discharge of oil. OPA also established the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) financed by a tax on oil and is available to clean up oil spills when the responsible party is incapable or unwilling to do so.
Chemical and oil risk information provided to local communities under the EPCRA, RMP, SPCC, and FRP regulations assist those communities in preventing or mitigating the effects of chemical releases and oil discharges. To further support communities in dealing with potential chemical and oil accidents during natural events such as hurricanes, EPA provides guidance to facilities in area at risk for hurricanes to help them shut down their facility safely in advance of the storm. Because of such preparation there are very few examples of facilities having a release during a hurricane.
Over the years, EPA has amended its preparedness and prevention regulations to adapt to current situations and to reflect lessons learned from previous incidents. EPA remains committed to helping Americans stay optimally prepared for any environmental emergencies that may occur.
This week, EPA will recognize the history, accomplishments, and benefits of the emergency preparedness and prevention programs by posting a variety of content on Twitter @EPAland.
For more information on EPA’s emergency planning program, visit https://www.epa.gov/epcra.
For more information on EPA’s risk management program, visit https://www.epa.gov/rmp.
For more information on EPA’s oil spill prevention and preparedness regulations, visit https://www.epa.gov/oil-spills-prevention-and-preparedness-regulations.
For more on EPA’s 50th Anniversary and how the agency is protecting America’s waters, land and air, visit: https://www.epa.gov/50, or follow the agency on social media using #EPAat50.