For Immediate Release: March 15, 2021
Contact: Debra Coyle McFadden
As of Today, Chemical Facilities Must Hold Public Meetings
WEC applauds this new public meeting requirement and again urges
the State to follow EPCRA public access requirements
By law, effective March 15, 2021, many chemical facilities are required to hold a public meeting within 90 days of any incident that results in offsite deaths, injuries, evacuations, sheltering in place, property damage, or environmental damage.
This U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule covers about 12,000 facilities across the nation that use specified extremely hazardous substances in certain quantities, including many oil refineries, chemical plants, paper mills, food processing operations, and water and sewage treatment plants, ect. This provision is part of the Risk Management Program (RMP) revised rule issued by EPA in 2017. President Trump withdrew most of the rule in 2019, but retained much of the public meeting requirement.
“This is an opportunity for community members to ask facility managers about safety measures they are taking to safeguard the community after an offsite incident has occurred.” said Debra Coyle McFadden, Executive Director of NJ Work Environment Council. “For example, is management looking at safer chemical substitutions? Are they considering reducing storage quantities and shipping?”
Management will be required to report whether a public meeting was held following an RMP reportable incident. Here in NJ, 78 facilities are required to follow this new public meeting rule. You can read more about the requirement here.
“We applaud EPA’s public meeting requirement because this information can be a matter of life or death,” McFadden went on to say. “Unfortunately, as this rule requiring public meetings goes into effect today, NJ still continues to violate public access requirements under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).”
Under EPCRA, Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) are required to allow public access to chemical Emergency Response Plans. Each municipality and county in NJ has an LEPC. WEC issued reports in 2014 and 2016 documenting how municipalities and counties were violating the public access provision of EPCRA. Even after bringing this to the attention of State officials and WEC issuing a 90-day notice, the state chose to continue to violate public access provisions of EPCRA and maintain its practice of secrecy and keeping community members in the dark. In April 2017, WEC filed a lawsuit against the State of NJ for violating EPCRA. Four years later, this lawsuit is still pending. “It is disappointing that the Murphy administration has chosen to continue the secrecy policies of the Christie administration,” said McFadden.
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WEC is a non-profit alliance of 70 labor, community and environmental organizations working for safe, secure jobs and a healthy, sustainable environment.