Judge Affirms Denial of Hazardous Facility Docs

     PITTSBURGH, Pa. (CN) – A federal judge upheld the denial of a news group’s request for environmental records because it did not specify the hazardous chemical facilities it wanted information on.
     PublicSource and reporter William Heltzel sued the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry in March for records about hazardous chemicals stored at facilities in Pennsylvania, according to court documents.
     They sued under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, a federal law created to help plan for potential environment emergencies, which also calls for providing citizens with information about local environmental hazards.
     Per the EPCRA, facilities storing hazardous chemicals must submit two chemical inventory forms – tier I and tier II – which list the amount of hazardous chemicals stored, the name of the chemical, a description of its storage, and other information. They also fill out a material safety data sheet per federal regulations, and must maintain hazardous substances at certain levels based on their danger.
     The tier II form contains more detailed information and is stored by the Department of Labor and Industry in an electronic database called Pennsylvania Tier II System, or PATTS.
     PublicSource filed a written request with the department in October 2014 for all tier II information in its possession. In its request, the news organization listed specific counties where facilities are located, not the facilities themselves, according to the ruling.
     The department denied the request two months later because it was “neither site specific nor for the proceeding calendar year,” court records show. The Pennsylvania governor’s office clarified, informing PublicSource that the EPCRA allows viewing of information from the previous year and requires a request be made for specific facilities.
     Judge Joy Conti upheld the records denial on Wednesday, granting the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. She ruled a written EPCRA request must specify the facility requesters want information on, or an in-person request can be made at a given facility.
     “Plaintiffs made a written request to the Department of L&I. In that submission, plaintiffs needed to make the request with respect to a specific facility,” Conti wrote. “If plaintiffs do not want to identify a specific facility and want to view tier II information in the possession of the Department of L&I, they may go a designated location and review that information.”
     Because PublicSource’s request did not meet the requirements of listing a specific facility, they are not “entitled to the relief they seek in the complaint,” the judge wrote.
     Even if a written request is submitted, the requester still must physically visit the site to review the information, Conti ruled. If the facility stores less than 10,000 pounds of a hazardous chemical, a requester must also “include the general need for the information,” according to the ruling.
     Naming a specific facility is necessary so the department can determine if it has the information on hand or if it needs to obtain it from the facility, and whether it can deny the request if there is less than 10,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals, the ruling states.

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