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Emergency Planning and Response Authorities

The federal government's responsibilities for emergency response are established by statute and by executive orders issued by the President.


The Stafford Act (PL-93-288) provides the authority for the federal government to respond to disasters and emergencies. Under the Stafford Act, the President is authorized to:

  • Establish a program of disaster preparedness that uses services of all appropriate agencies;
  • Make grants to states, upon their request, for the development of plans and programs for disaster preparedness and prevention; and
  • Ensure that all appropriate federal agencies are prepared to issue warnings of disasters to state and local officials.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972/ Oil Pollution Act of 1990 expands the National Contingency Plan (NCP) to include response to releases of hazardous substances, as well as oil, to any navigable waters of the US. The Oil Pollution Act broadens the response and enforcement authorities of the federal government.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from "cradle to grave", including its generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal.

The Comprehensive Emergency Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) expands the NCP to apply to releases to any environmental media and to cover releases at hazardous waste sites requiring emergency removal actions.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) expands EPA enforcement authority and establishes a chemical emergency response planning infrastructure at the state and local levels.

Executive Orders (EO)

EO 12088-Federal Compliance with Pollution Control Standards delegates pollution prevention, control, and abatement responsibilities to federal agencies, including EPA.

EO 12580-Superfund Implementation, as amended by EO 12777-Implementation of Section 311 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), delegates to EPA specific authorities under the NCP, as well as the responsibility for its amendment.

Homeland Security Presidential Directives also give EPA the legal authority for its emergency response program.