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Community Right to Know and Reporting

Steven J. Christiansen, Environmental Law: An Update for the Busy Natural Resources Practitioner (1990)

A. Background

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (“EPCRA”)1 is Congress' reaction to the Bhopal tragedy in which over 2,000 people were killed by a release of methyl isocyanate from a pesticide plant. For years before Bhopal, Congress and EPA had struggled over proposals to expand § 112 of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) with regard to air toxics. Bhopal became the catalyst for a flurry of events.

One month after Bhopal, Representative Waxman (D.-CA.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and Environment, instituted a “poison gas” survey of major chemical companies. Four months later, Waxman and others introduced the “Toxic Release Control Act,” a beefed-up, “Bhopal” version of earlier CAA § 112 bills. The Act would have required strict emission standards and used an expanded list of 85 toxic chemicals. The Act included EPCRA-type provisions. At about the same time, EPA developed its own air toxics strategy focusing on 15 pollutants and pollutant groups. Six months after Bhopal, political compromise led to Senate and House bills that would become EPCRA. These bills were introduced as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). Sixteen months later, on October 17, 1986, SARA (including EPCRA as Title III) was enacted.

EPCRA addresses response rather than prevention. However, EPCRA is viewed by many as