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Publication date: Mar. 22, 2007

LOCAL AGENCIES DON'T OBEY LAW ON CHEMICAL RESPONSE PLAN DISCLOSURE

A nationwide audit found that only 44 percent of local emergency planning committees are giving the public copies of their chemical emergency response plans, as required by law.

That means any citizen - or newspaper - trying to find out whether government is effectively performing the job of protecting citizens from a toxic chemical disaster is out of luck. A 1986 law, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act, required local agencies to plan their responses to a chemical emergency like that which killed thousands of residents near a plant in Bhopal, India in 1984. The law also requires disclosure of the plans. The plans do not include sensitive information, which is kept separate.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors, in cooperation with the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, and the National Freedom of Information Coalition, organized the audit. Reporters from some 162 newspapers (along with three student newspapers and eight League of Women Voters chapters) requested the plans from their Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs). The project was supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Only 44 percent of the LEPCs released the full report; some even had it online. "Other local officials, however," auditors reported, "reacted to requests with confusion, outright denials and sometimes by calling police to check out the auditors. Many weren't sure who had the authority to release the reports, or even where the documents were located." Another 20 percent provided only part of the report, and 36 percent refused to provide it outright.


Last revised January 22, 2013

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