EPCRA: What You Need to Know

To help EHS professionals everywhere get ready for your annual EPCRA compliance tasks and Tier II reporting preparations, we’re putting this episode from our Campfire Sessions video library front and center. The Basics of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act webinar video is just that — a discussion of the in’s and out’s of EPCRA for environmental compliance and why they’re important.

Experts in EPCRA and Tier II Reporting

Our panel of Encampers are all seasoned EHS professionals in their own right. Encamp VP of Compliance and Customer Success, Megan Walters, CHMM, Julie Ragains, Director of Customer Success, and Brandon Barlow of Encamp’s Customer Experience team. Collectively, they’ve filed hundreds of Tier II reports for EPCRA. They also work with Encamp customers throughout the year to ensure EPCRA compliance and reduce the risk of non-compliance via Tier II reporting completeness and accuracy. 


By topic, here’s everything our Encamp panel discusses in the video.

  • What is EPCRA?
  • What are the roles of the SERC, TERC, and LEPC? (for Tier II reporting)
  • What are the different sections of EPCRA?
  • What is the List of Lists?
  • How do you contact the EPA?
  • What is the Emergency Notification Requirement or Section 304?
  • What information is needed by the SERC and LEPC?
  • What is the difference between Tier I and Tier II?
  • The Difficulties of Tier II Reporting
  • What is the TRI or Toxic Release Inventory?
  • What are the consequences of EPCRA non-compliance?

We’ve also transcribed the entire webinar, starting here.   

What is EPCRA?

Brandon: Hello, and welcome to Ask An Encamper. Today, we will be covering the basics of EPCRA (Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act). We will be covering why it was created and who all is involved as well as the five provisions that make up EPCRA. Today our team members are Megan Walters, the VP of Compliance and Customer Success, and Julie Ragains who is our Director of Customer Success. Hey guys, how are you doing?

Megan: Good!

Brandon: This is our second episode following up our TRI (Toxic Release Inventory). I really want to jump right in this. Megan, what is EPCRA?

Megan: EPCRA stands for Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. It was passed in 1986 in response to safety and environmental concerns surrounding hazardous chemicals that are stored and handled in communities around the US. So two major events were the catalyst to getting EPCRA passed. The first one was in 1984 in Bhopal, India at a Union Carbide plant where methyl isocyanate was accidentally released. The release killed over 3,800 people that lived nearby and or worked at the plant so it was a pretty major event that hit worldwide and then the other event happened closer to home about six months after the Bhopal incident; the Union Carbide plant in Institute, West Virginia had a release as well. No one actually died which is great but the event still elevated the concern for local preparedness for chemical emergencies and the availability of information surrounding hazardous chemicals.

Brandon: Okay that makes sense. So, it’s kind of surrounding the community which makes up that Community Right-To-Know Act which makes sense. Can you expand on why this is so important?

Megan: Yeah! So the Community Right-To-Know provisions of EPCRA help increase the public’s knowledge and access to information around chemicals at these facilities, their uses and releases to the environment. States and communities working with facilities can use the information to improve chemical safety,protect public health, and the environment.

What are the roles of the SERC, TERC, and LEPC?

Brandon: So Julie, after the passing of EPCRA each state had to plan a committee. So now we can get into the SERCs, TERCs and LEPCs. What do these acronyms mean?

Julie: You gotta love all the acronyms in our industry don’t you? Alright so at the state level there are the SERCs which are the State Emergency Response Commission or where applicable the TERCs which are the Tribal Emergency Response Commission and then on the local level you have the LEPCs which are the Local Emergency Planning Committees.

Brandon: So, the SERCs and TERCs are on the same level. So, what are their duties?

Julie: Right! So, the SERCs supervises and coordinates the activities of the LEPCs so they also establish procedures for receiving and processing public requests for information it is the Community Right-To-Know Act after all and then they also review local emergency response plans. In regards to the TERCs, the Chief Executive Office of the tribe actually appoints the TERC and then they just have the same responsibilities as the SERCs do.

Brandon: So that just leaves us with the LEPC. What do they do? 

Julie: Alright, so they are composed of local officials, police officers, fire officials, civil defense, public health, transportation, environmental professionals, and then also representatives of facilities subject to the emergency planning requirements, community groups, the media. It’s really a whole conglomerate of people and they must develop an emergency response plan. They have to review this annually and make sure it’s up to date and provide information about chemicals in the community to other citizens.

What are the different sections of EPCRA?

Brandon: I kind of touched on this earlier about the five sections or provisions. So Megan, what does EPCRA cover?

Megan: There are five provisions as you mentioned. The first one being Emergency Planning which you can find in Sections 301-303. This section is for Emergency Planning around EHSs or extremely hazardous substances. The next section is Section 304 which is the Emergency Release Notification and this is for reporting spills of those hazardous chemicals and then the third section is Sections 311-312 is your Hazardous Chemical Storage Reporting Requirements so this is where Tier II reporting is housed in EPCRA. Section 313 is Toxic Chemical Release Inventory and this section is for TRI reporting and then lastly, the most forgotten one is Section 322 the trade secrets. This section contains information about how to keep certain information that you report confidential.

Brandon: Yes, that is the forgotten one at the end there. So you mentioned the different sections from 301 all the way up to 322. If those numbers have any significance where can I find more information?

Megan: So these regulations implementing EPCRA are codified in title 40 of the CFR Code of Federal Regulations parts 350-372. EPA also has a website dedicated to EPCRA information that provides useful guidance documents and they also publish a frequently asked questions website where you can find information related to EPCRA and how to report.

Brandon: Is that updated every year, do you know?

Megan: Yes, it’s updated every year. You can actually sign up for emails to get the updates as they add new questions that they’ve answered.

Brandon: Nice, okay, so let’s kind of jump into the five sections here. So starting with 301 or 303, what are the emergency response plans?

Megan: This is where the LEPCs come in. Their tasks are with the emergency planning for their communities and that involves the facility that stores or any facility that stores extremely hazardous substances, or EHSs, in these communities. So if you are a facility that stores EHSs in quantities greater than the threshold planning quantity, or the TPQ, your facility must cooperate with the people from the LEPC to basically prepare this emergency plan.

What is the List of Lists?

Brandon: So this kind of brings in the first introduction of this List of Lists. Can you explain what the List of Lists is in the requirement for this section?

Megan: Yes, the List of Lists is published by the EPA. It contains several lists from areas of the regulations like RCRA codes, reportable quantity thresholds, and threshold planning quantities TPQs which we mentioned above. TPQs are also published in the EPCRA regulations under Appendix A and Appendix B so you can find those specifically under EPCRA. Any facility that has an EHS at or above the threshold planning quantity must notify the SERC or the TERC and the LAPC within 60 days after they receive a shipment or produce the substance on-site.

How do you contact the EPA?

Brandon: So you have 60 days. Do you happen to know how you contact the EPA? What is the preferred method? Have you done this before?

Megan: I have not done this before but the way to do it depends on your state. A lot of these states have built portals for Tier II reporting and they kind of incorporated this notification in there. So you’ll need to check with your SERC. The LEPC might be something as simple as a call, an email, or a letter so you’ll just have to check with how your SERC wants that information or your LEPC.

What is the Emergency Notification Requirement or Section 304?

Brandon: So Julie, now we’re gonna jump to the next section which is the Emergency Notification Requirements which is section 304. Tell me a little bit about that.

Julie: Section 304 requires facilities to immediately report accidental releases of EHSs and hazardous substances to local officials and the state. Then further reporting may be required. The reporting requirements provide the government with the ability to ensure protection of human health and the environment in the event of the spill cleanup.

Brandon: You said immediately. What does that mean? What does the EPA think that means?

Julie: Typically if you imagine it’s been 24 hours as soon as possible. Megan, have you ever had to submit a 304 when you were an EHS manager in your former life?

Megan: Unfortunately not, but I have heard that some of those deadlines are getting smaller and smaller so I’ve heard two hours to 24 hours. Just make your best judgment and get with the notified officials as soon as possible. 

What information is needed by the SERC and LEPC?

Brandon: Yeah, absolutely. So back to you Julie, what kind of information is required on this notification to the SERCs and LEPCs?

Julie: So these are pretty detailed. They obviously need to know the chemical name. Is the chemical an EHS? They want things like the quantity that was released in the environment, the time and the duration it occured in air, water, and land. Are there any anticipated acute or chronic health risks associated with the emergency, and is there necessary advice regarding medical attention for exposed individuals? So this is why having a safety data sheet, or an SDS, is so critical. Proper precautions such as evacuation plans or sheltering in place plans and then you know a name and a telephone number of who to contact about the relief.

Brandon: Perfect. So kind of jumping to 311 and 312 which is my absolute favorite. What are the Community Right-To-Know requirements for this section?

Julie: They require facilities with any hazardous chemicals to submit their safety data sheet to the state and local officials and their local fire department. So if a facility’s chemicals are defined over threshold, facilities are also required to submit an annual inventory of these chemicals to those same officials. Once again this is all about giving the government the information to prepare for the possibility of a chemical emergency at that facility.

What is the difference between Tier I and Tier II?

Brandon: So every now and then, I hear Tier I and Tier II. What is the difference between those two?

Julie: Section 312 literally has a two-tiered approach. Tier I requires information and the maximum amount of hazardous chemicals at the facility during the preceding year, and an estimated average daily amount of chemicals in a general location to be aggregated and reported by hazard category. Tier II not only requires this information but also requests more specific information about locations and storage. It’s interesting Tier I is required by federal law whereas Tier II is required only by request of the LEPC or the SERC but I hate to tell you all SERCs are requiring Tier II, so you should just go ahead and do that. Tier I is almost kind of obsolete at this point.

Brandon: That makes sense, so Tier I, it’s not like it is gone, it’s just now a part of Tier II and then now all states require Tier II, is that correct?

Julie:  Yes, it is confusing to people, though, if they do start digging into EPCRA. I had an EHS manager the other day send me a text and ask “Like what is the difference? I’m confused.” Just ignore Tier I, you’re in Florida, you have to do Tier II.  

Brandon: Exactly. Us three particularly are very familiar with our Tier II reporting as this is something that Encamp automates. I want to open this up to the both of you. Megan, we’ll start with you. What is so difficult about reporting Tier II?

The Difficulties of Tier II Reporting

Megan: There are several parts of Tier II reporting that can make it kind of cumbersome and complex. To start, each state can decide how facilities should report and what format they want it in. For instance, states like Connecticut and New Mexico prefer copies of the Tier2 Submit files. But states like Michigan or Indiana prefer to use a third-party system called Tier II Manager, so if you’re filing for multiple facilities over multiple states it can get tricky keeping up with the state nuances

Julie: In addition to what Megan just said, state nuances apply to mailings and notifications as well. Some states require hardcopy mailings of your Tier II report and SDS to be sent to the LEPCs and your local fire department, some will accept electronic copies, and some states counties don’t require you to send anything at all. The requirements are really all over the place and it can be a nightmare just trying to keep up with where you need to send things, to how you need to send it to them. Kind of like a fun fact is we actually had to get a CD burner and burn a CD and send it to Puerto Rico last year for one of our customers. That was their required format. So somewhere in Puerto Rico there’s a warehouse of a CD-ROM of Tier II reports. I’m not sure what they’re doing with it but it really is all over the place as far as what is required. 

Brandon: For large organizations, you can clearly see how this can stack up and become a huge problem as different states require even different formats as you mentioned Puerto Rico wants a CD. Some states might not want anything but an email. So if you are giving advice to an EHS director, how would you approach trying to get your Tier II reporting done? When should you start Tier II reporting?

Julie: I mean, obviously the earlier you can start the better. We do understand that your inventories may be changing up until the end of the year, and actually state Tier II portals don’t go live until January 1st. So you can’t even physically log in to some of the systems Megan was talking about until that date. But as far as your data collection goes, if you can get started kind of the fourth quarter of the year compiling that information, that would probably be best. And you should probably just use Encamp because it’s going to make it a lot easier for you and you can get into Encamp before January 1st to get started on your Tier II reports. 

Brandon: Yeah absolutely, Tier II can be a beast. We have some sites that you know we have to do a few reports to some that have to do thousands of Tier II reports. You can see that is something that you need to get your team on the same page as soon as possible.

Julie: Even managing that amount of login credentials to the state portals can be difficult in itself.

What is the TRI or Toxic Release Inventory?

Brandon: Okay, lastly I will leave this to Megan. So this is the beast. What is the TRI or the Toxic Release Inventory?

Megan: So TRI is, as you mentioned, the toxic release inventory and it tracks the management of certain toxic chemicals that pose a threat to human health in the environment. U.S. facilities in different industry sectors must report annually how much of each chemical is released to the environment and/or managed through recycling, energy recovery and treatment. 

Brandon: So Megan and Julie, I want to open this back up to you. So this is a little different fromTier II reporting. What makes this so difficult?

Megan: There’s a lot of information to keep track of that you have to report for TRI. The main three sources for TRI is that they’re concerned with our air, water, and land. For air I find the most difficult because you’re calculating the rate of emission through vents, ducts, and fans, etc. so those calculations can be pretty complex and difficult to understand.

Julie: Like anything with data collection, it takes a lot of time, so just keeping up with changing regulations, nuances you’ve got to verify with all of your chemical manufacturers. If you’re a large chemical manufacturing facility that is subjected to this reporting, it’s just a bear and it just takes so much time so the sooner that you can get started on it the better.

Brandon: Kind of what I’m gathering from the both of you is that when we talk about Tier II, it’s different state portals and the submission is the issue. We kind of talked about TRI and it’s more data gathering because all the different sectors you have to put together and actually get your calculations correct. To our listeners, as we all mentioned, this is a bear of a report and we have actually made another asking Ask An Encamper section you can find on Encamp.com.

We will also be releasing another video as our deadline for July 1st approaches. This would be coming to a little more detail on the calculations and things like that. Megan, as a quick review I want to jump back in this. So our 302 notification, they have a 60-day requirement whether that’s shipped to you or you produce it, the 304 notifications would be immediate. The Tier II report is due March 1st and our TRI is due July 1st. So what are the possible penalties for the companies that fail to comply with these regulations?

What are the consequences of EPCRA non-compliance?

Megan: So they get updated, but EPCRA Section 325 allows for civil and administrative penalties ranging from $21,000 to $164,000 per violation, per day. If you get caught not reporting for several weeks, you could be charged per day for that violation. Criminal penalties can reach up to $50,000 or five years in prison and that can apply to any person who knowingly or willingly fails to provide emergency release notifications.

Brandon: Yikes! That could be, yeah, pretty stiff. So just a question for both of you, have you seen anybody or know of any company that has been penalized for EPCRA violations before?

Megan: I don’t know anyone personally, but EPA does send out newsletters here and there of their civil and criminal penalties. I always like to read through that and see who we should target next who obviously needs some Encamp help. I fortunately do not know anyone personally that has had an EPCRA violation.

Julie: States do it too and so like for example Texas, they actually post their meeting minutes from when they have PPQ enforcement and corrective action meetings so you can pull those from their website.

Brandon: Well thank you both for covering the basics of EPCRA. If you have any questions for Julie, I, or Megan, please leave a comment below and you can actually contact either one of us on LinkedIn if you’re interested in learning more about EPCRA. A great resource is actually the EPA government. Unless you guys know any other better resources or any other resources out there?

Megan: EPA does a really good job of consolidating all those resources. Julie, you probably have some in mind as well?

Julie: Yeah the EPA is great, and then we put together a lot of information on our website as well to kind of break it down in more layman’s terms. We’ve got blog posts about Tier II, we’ve got a checklist that might be helpful for you to download as well.

Brandon: Perfect. Thanks again guys. For our listeners that want to learn more about Encamp, go to Encamp.com, but yeah we’ll talk to you later.

Let’s hit the trail — together.

In knowing exactly how challenging Tier II reporting can be, Encamp is all about simplicity and making your company and its EHS team more successful. It’s why we created the Encamp platform in the first place. Request a demo to see how our platform automates the way you prepare and file reports for EPCRA and makes the process faster, easier, and more accurate.

Even better, we support you with a full team of Customer Success and compliance experts. They all come from EHS and environmental science backgrounds and, collectively, they’ve filed thousands of Tier II reports for EPCRA. We’d be happy to help you with your Tier II’s.