Homeland Security:

EPA's Management of Clean Air Act Chemical Facility Data

GAO-03-509R: Published: Mar 14, 2003. Publicly Released: Mar 18, 2003.

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John B. Stephenson
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The events of September 11, 2001, triggered a national re-examination of the security of many of the nation's critical infrastructures. Following these events, government agencies have struggled to find the right balance between the public's "right to know" and the dangers of inappropriate public disclosure of sensitive information. Professional and trade groups representing critical infrastructure sectors including the chemical industry generally oppose the release of information regarding the vulnerability of such facilities. These groups argue that terrorists could use this information to target the chemical facilities that are most vulnerable or located near population centers. Other groups support communities' right to information about hazards to which they might be exposed. Federal, state, and local governments have weighed these factors in reassessing the information publicly available in their publications and on their Web sites. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently reviewing its management of the chemical facility information it has obtained under Clean Air Act provisions. Regulations promulgated under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act as amended in 1990 require chemical facilities that produce, use, or store certain hazardous chemicals beyond threshold amounts to develop a risk management plan (RMP)to detect and prevent or minimize accidental chemical releases. Facilities prepare and submit RMPs to EPA at least every 5 years. RMPs contain data about the types and amounts of hazardous chemicals in covered processes at a facility; a facility's accident history; accident mitigation and prevention measures that are in place; a facility's prevention and emergency response program; and the potential effect an accidental chemical release could have on the surrounding population, including whether schools and residences are located within the area potentially affected by a chemical release. Section 112(r) states that RMPs must be made available to the public, as well as to state and local agencies responsible for responding to accidental chemical releases.

In a report issued today, we discuss issues surrounding chemical industry security, including the threat posed by chemical facilities, federal requirements addressing chemical facility security and the safe management of chemicals, steps taken by federal agencies to assess and address security, and voluntary industry actions taken to address security concerns. As part of our study of issues surrounding chemical industry security, GAO also examined EPA's management of Clean Air Act chemical facility data. In this report we describe EPA's actions to modify management of RMP data in response to the increased terrorist threat since the events of September 11, 2001.

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