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NATIONWIDE LEPC SURVEY: SUMMARY REPORT

William C. Adams; Stephen D. Burns; Philip G. Handwerk
Department of Public Administration
The George Washington University
Washington, DC 20052
(202) 994-7494 (703) 522-4331
October 1994


Grant funding for this research was provided by the
Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office of
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The current status of America's Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) cannot be generalized as either utter failure or phenomenal success. However, many LEPCs are doing a far better job than their critics imagined. One fourth of the LEPCs strictly comply with their legal mandates and even take numerous proactive steps that go beyond the minimum required by law.
Though not as proactive, most other LEPCs are highly compliant (16%) or mostly compliant (39%) with the law. Yet, despite this vigor, about one fifth (21%) of all LEPCs -- disproportionately in less-populated and rural counties -- are inactive or, if once active, are now defunct.
These and other findings are drawn from survey data of 1,151 LEPCs. The nationwide, population-weighted poll was conducted in the summer of 1994 by a research team from The George Washington University.

Background.

Title III of the 1986 Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) is a provision called the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) commonly referred to as SARA Title III or just SARA III.
SARA III stipulated that each governor appoint a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). Each SERC was then to create Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs). Most SERCs created one LEPC for each county. A few states used small townships or boroughs; a few created large LEPCs encompassing many counties.
Each LEPC was supposed to submit an emergency response plan to the SERC no later than October, 1988. LEPCs were also given various other duties. This nationwide survey was designed to measure the progress that have LEPCs made to date in fulfilling these responsibilities.

COMPLIANCE & PROACTIVITY

Compliance.

To what extent have LEPCs complied with the requirements of SARA III? To satisfy ten key provisions of the law, LEPCs need to have the following:

(1) An LEPC Chair
(2) An Emergency Coordinator
(3) An Information Coordinator
(4) Members representing at least 12 of 13 specified groups
(5) Formal LEPC meetings
(6) Publicly advertised meetings
(7) An emergency response plan submitted to the SERC
(8) A plan incorporating at least 9 of 10 key SARA III elements
(9) A plan that has been reviewed in the past year
(10) Published newspaper notice that the plan and local hazardous
substances data are publicly available

Proactivity.

To what extent have LEPCs gone beyond the minimum letter of the law? To assess "proactivity," five additional factors can be examined: Whether the LEPC . . .

(1) Has practiced the plan in the past 12 months
(2) Has updated the plan in the past 12 months
(3) Has a plan that takes natural hazards into account
(4) Uses its EHS data to make hazard reduction or prevention
recommendations to local government or to industry
(5) Meets at least quarterly

ACTIVITY CATEGORIES

LEPCs can be sorted according to their degrees of compliance and proactivity. In this report, they are grouped into these four categories: (1) Proactive, 24% of LEPCs surveyed; (2) Compliant, 16%; (3) Quasi-Active, 39%; and Inactive, 21%.

Proactive LEPCs.

LEPCs are classified as Proactive if they have complied with all (10/10) or almost all (9/10) of the ten SARA III provisions listed above (including a completed, SERC-submitted plan) and also have performed at least four of the five proactive initiatives listed above. A substantial number of all surveyed LEPCs earned the Proactive designation (24%).
Proactive LEPCs excel across the board, but, when examined for any common deficiencies, public communication tends to be their weakest area (just as for other LEPCs).

Compliant LEPCs.

The Compliant LEPCs -- 16% of all LEPCs -- fully satisfy at least nine of the ten SARA III provisions (including a SERC-submitted plan) but have not performed as many as four of the five proactive factors on page 2.
Compliant LEPCs are most likely to default on the requirement to publish newspaper notices of the public availability of their EPCRA data and plan. Only 56% do so.

Quasi-Active LEPCs.

These LEPCs comply with a majority of the ten legal mandates noted above, but fall short in two to four areas and/or have not filed a completed emergency plan with the SERC. Quasi-Active LEPCs comprise 39% of all LEPCs.
Quasi-Active LEPCs are not exactly dormant. Yet, they are neglecting several areas of the law, especially those involving public communications requirements. For example:


Quasi-Active LEPCs tend to be behind in most other SARA III activities as well. For example, just 60% have submitted completed plans to their SERC. And only 72% of those that do have completed plans have reviewed the plans in the past year.

Inactive LEPCs.

This study classifies LEPCs as Inactive if they fail to comply with a majority of the ten SARA III requirements noted above -- or the Chair acknowledged that the LEPC had become defunct, had never been active, or had just begun tentative efforts to organize.
These LEPCs have poor records on most issues covered in the survey. Some Inactive LEPCs technically do have an emergency response plan -- but, their plan was inherited from years gone by and has rarely, if ever, been updated.

Why are these LEPCs inactive?

What sort of LEPCs are idle? Population size is the best predictor of LEPC lethargy. Almost half (47%) of all Inactive LEPCs have jurisdictions with fewer than 20,000 residents. Inactive LEPCs are also more likely to be rural and somewhat less affluent. Inactive LEPCs exist in all regions, but are slightly more common in the West where there are a few more sparsely populated jurisdictions.
Note that throughout the rest of this report all references to "functioning" LEPCs are based on the 79% of LEPCs that are "Quasi-Active," "Compliant," or "Proactive" -- and excludes the 21% that are Inactive.

STRUCTURES & PROCEDURES

EMERGENCY RESPONSE PLAN

Most functioning LEPCs (81%) have completed an emergency response plan and submitted it to their SERC; another 11% say their plan is "mostly completed." Characteristics of the completed plans include the following:

Most functioning LEPCs with completed plans are giving ongoing attention to refining their plans.

The status of these emergency response plans is important because most LEPCs (62%) have had to use their plans in a chemical emergency.
One of the most important (but not mandated) measures that LEPCs can take is to make "hazard reduction or prevention recommendations to industry or local government." Nearly half (48%) of the functioning LEPCs have taken this notable step.

PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONS

Public accountability is a fundamental theme of SARA III. The law outlines several specific steps to ensure and encourage public accessibility to EHS data and the emergency planning process. Nonetheless, many LEPCs are lax in this area.

OTHER DATA USAGE

LEPC PRIORITIES

LEPC leaders were asked to select as many as three top priorities for improving their LEPC from a list of 12 items. Priorities are widely dispersed. No single factor far surpasses all the rest as the top concern of LEPCs. Most potential priorities are each cited by only one or two out of every ten LEPCs.
The top priority is "identifying nonreporting facilities," cited by 29%. "Developing training programs" (23%) and "communicating with the public" (21%) are other priorities.

TYPES OF ASSISTANCE

LEPCs were asked to rate the usefulness of 25 different types of assistance: 11 EPA publications and software packages, three other publication series, eight training and technical assistance programs, and three types of meetings.
Of 11 EPA tools and publications, LEPC leaders consider three to be "very useful": CAMEO, ALOHA, and the List of Lists. None of the EPA products was widely criticized as "not useful."
EPA training, technical assistance, and publications all compared favorably to the evaluations of similar assistance from industry or other government agencies.
EPA's publications and other forms of assistance received mostly positive reviews among those who were familiar with them. However, many LEPC leaders are unacquainted with these resources.
The most well-known EPA publications are the NRT1 Planning Guide, Green Book, CAMEO program, Chemicals in the Community, and List of Lists. Yet, about one third of the leaders of functioning LEPCs are unfamiliar with EPA's highest profile publications. Other publications are unfamiliar to as many as two thirds of them.

IMPLICATIONS

The performance of LEPCs is a complex and varied pattern. As reviewed above, their levels of activism are extremely uneven. About one fifth (21%) have failed to act on a majority of the basic mandates of SARA III. Some of these LEPCs created an emergency plan years ago but have become lifeless today; others have recently begun to revive. At the other extreme, nearly a quarter (24%) have chosen to fully comply with the details of the law and to pursue activities beyond the minimum legal mandates. Without exhausting the ramifications of these survey findings, three particular patterns should be underscored.
LEPCs in many of America's more populous jurisdictions are surprisingly vigorous. However, rural and small-town LEPCs are often much less healthy, if not moribund. SARA III was predicated on more volunteerism, public interest, and inventive funding than has emerged in these less-populated LEPCs. These lagging LEPCs might well profit from special guidance and resources. Some might even be consolidated with adjacent LEPCs.
Despite the "community right-to-know" goals of SARA III, public communications is the area in which most LEPCs fall short. Among all functioning LEPCs, only 49% publish newspaper notice of the public availability of their emergency plans and HazMat data and only 70% advertise their meetings to the public. LEPCs clearly need to be reminded of these obligations.
Another important communications area stands out as a conspicuous target for improvement -- the visibility of EPA publications for LEPCs. Among those who are familiar with them, EPA's publications are seen as valuable. However, EPA's publications are unknown to between one third and two thirds of the leaders of functioning LEPCs. Thus, greater distribution of these materials holds the real potential to assist LEPCs.

METHODOLOGY

Population-Weighted Sample. The 50 states have 2,883 LEPCs; another 427 are assigned to U.S. territories, Native American reservations, and the District of Columbia. An unweighted sample would have drawn over half of the fifty-state sample from the 1,538 LEPCs of just four states -- New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Texas -- since those states each have hundreds of small LEPC districts.
Instead, the sampling strategy that was used weighted LEPCs according to their population. This system ensured that LEPCs in the more populated jurisdictions were represented in approximate proportion to their population. For every 120,000 residents of a state, an LEPC was sampled. The resulting sample size for the project was 1,435 LEPCs, including a sample of LEPCs for U.S. territories and Native American reservations. Ultimately, mail surveys and supplemental telephone interviews yielded a final completion rate of 80% (1,151 LEPCs).
Confidence Intervals. These 1,151 completed interviews drawn from the total of 3,310 LEPCs yields confidence intervals of 2% as a safe rule of thumb (at the customary 95% level of probability, adjusted by the finite population multiplier). The text does not note confidence intervals, however, because the central findings of this survey do not hinge on subtle 2% margins.
Testing for Nonresponse Bias. The high response rate greatly increases the likelihood that responses are an accurate representation of the sampled population. Moreover, to further verify the merits of this sample, an abbreviated telephone interview was conducted with a random sample of 150 LEPC leaders who had not responded to the mail questionnaires. This exercise found that the minority who had not responded were not significantly different in terms of LEPC activity from those who did respond.
Response Validation. To check if Chairs were willing to admit their LEPCs' shortcomings, three dissimilar states were selected for a special analysis. A total of 112 LEPCs had been successfully surveyed in these three states. Only one of these 112 LEPCs had erroneously claimed to have a completed, SERC-submitted, emergency response plan, according to records obtained from their SERCs. This litmus test verified the candor and accuracy of LEPC responses to this crucial question and, by extension, reinforced the reliability of all the findings.

Source: RTK Net, Washington, DC

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