21, 1999 4:10 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Allen Mattison, 202-675-7903
Chemical Disaster Deadline, Congress Works To Revoke Public's Right To Know
- June 21 - Today chemical companies are required to report information about
potential accidents to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an effort
to better inform the public about the risks they face, but Congress is scrambling
to keep the data from seeing the light of day. The Senate could vote as soon as
tonight on a proposal to revoke the public's right to know about chemical disaster
"Today is supposed to be a day of sunshine, but Congress seems intent on making
it rain," said Debbie Sease, Sierra Club's legislative director. "Instead of the
public being informed about potential chemical disasters, the public's representatives
in Congress are working to cloak that information in darkness, to prevent people
from learning about the chemical threats facing their communities. Congress is
not working to protect the public -- rather, they are trying to protect the chemical
industry from public scrutiny.
"The old adage `what you don't know can't hurt you' falls flat when it comes to
chemical disasters. What you don't know can kill you. But if communities are well
informed, they can ask local chemical facilities to clean up their acts and reduce
their risk of a chemical disaster," Sease said. "To save lives, prevent pollution
and protect property, Sierra Club is asking members of Congress to defend the
public's right to know."
When Congress passed the 1990 Clean Air Act, it gave citizens the power to learn
about potential chemical accidents in an effort to improve public safety and to
encourage companies to reduce their hazards. The law requires facilities that
handle extremely hazardous substances to report what could happen under scenarios
for different chemical accidents. By law, chemical facilities are scheduled to
report that information to the EPA by today; EPA would then make the data available
to the public. The industry's Congressional supporters are racing to change the
law to prevent EPA from making the information public, but some in Congress --
led by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- are fighting to protect the public's
right to know.
"As the Senate reaches a compromise position on this legislation, Sierra Club
wants to applaud Senator Frank Lautenberg's efforts to improve the public's health
and safety protections in this bill, S. 880," Sease said. "Although this bill
has been improved, at its core it would roll back the public's right to know.
We hope the House of Representatives will reshape this bill so it truly protects
Americans' safety by improving facility security and reducing the risks of chemical
The chemical industry and those in Congress trying to rescind the public's right
to know do so under the guise of preventing terrorist attacks. But even the FBI
says the public needs to know about the potential for chemical accidents. Chemical
facilities experience thousands of accidents each year; none has ever been subject
to a terrorist attack.
Environmentalists, community groups and public officials all oppose efforts to
rescind the public's right to know. Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls outlined her
opposition by saying, "From a practical standpoint, restrictions on the release
of information would create a bureaucratic nightmare and limit the effectiveness
of local safety initiatives."
Facts about chemical accidents:
* A total of nearly 60,000 chemical accidents occur each year.
* More than 400 chemical accidents per year cause immediate death, injury, and/or
* Each year, accidents involving toxic chemicals kill more than 250 people.
* Accidents release over 135 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment
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