National security regulations are preventing government officials from disclosing potentially dangerous chemical plants to the public, according to a report by E&E.
The controversy involves chemical facilities that house or process hazardous materials at levels that exceed government thresholds.
Those plants are subject to additional reporting requirements, but the Environmental Protection Agency identifies plants that don't comply with the heightened standards using a Department of Homeland Security database.
As a result, the EPA told E&E that the data falls under post-Sept. 11, 2001, national security laws that prevent their public release.
In April 2013, a non-compliant fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, killing 15 people. In the aftermath, the EPA identified 13 to 15 additional violators; currently, at least two remain out of compliance with reporting requirements.
Transparency advocates and chemical industry groups alike said that keeping the data confidential likely doesn't serve a significant national security purpose, while critics said that it effectively keeps employees and residents near the two remaining plants in the dark.
E&E added that other chemical plant violations, most notably of environmental laws, are widely available to the public. Meanwhile, federal officials are also unable to highlight compliant facilities — or disclose plants that no longer meet the hazardous materials threshold at all.