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December 1, 2006

Regulation

EPA Reverses Course On Toxics Reporting Rules

Agency retains annual reporting requirement for Toxics Release Inventory; Senate Democrats will try to prevent other proposed changes

Glenn Hess

In a concession to Capitol Hill Democrats, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to partially reverse its plan to reduce the amount of information companies are required to publicly report about releases of hundreds of toxic chemicals.

In September 2005, EPA disclosed in a letter to Congress that it intended to develop a rule requiring Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) emissions data to be reported every other year instead of annually, as is currently mandated under the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act.

Under that law, about 24,000 facilities are required to submit TRI reports on more than 650 chemicals they release into the air, land, and water.

At the same time, EPA proposed a rule that would raise the threshold for reporting releases of the chemicals from 500 to 5,000 lb per facility. The agency said the change would allow more firms to use the short "Form A" rather than the longer, more detailed "Form R," thereby reducing the reporting burden, particularly on small businesses.

Democrats, however, characterized the modifications as an attempt by the Bush Administration to gut the right-to-know law, which Congress passed in the aftermath of the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands of people.

Courtesy of Frank Lautenberg
Lautenberg

In response, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) in July blocked the confirmation of Molly O'Neill to serve as head of EPA's Office of Environmental Information. This week, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson sent a letter to the two senators stating that the agency would no longer try to change the annual TRI reporting requirement.

"It is welcome news that the Bush Administration is throwing out part of this bad plan, but they still need to get rid of the rest," says Lautenberg, who authored the 1986 right-to-know law. "The Administration's proposed changes are nothing more than a giveaway to corporate polluters at the cost of everyday Americans' health."

Signaling the profound change in the political climate since the midterm elections, Lautenberg adds: "The Democratic Congress is not going to let this kind of irresponsible policy stand. The wise course for the Bush Administration is to drop this entire pro-polluter plan."

Lautenberg says he will release his hold on O'Neill's nomination, but he and Menendez plan to introduce legislation next week that would prevent EPA from making any additional attempts to change the frequency of TRI reporting. In addition, he says, the measure would prohibit EPA from adopting any of the other proposed changes to the TRI program.

An EPA spokeswoman says the agency has received more than 100,000 comments on the proposed TRI changes and plans to issue a final rule by the end of December on the proposal regarding use of the shortened form. She says the decision not to change the reporting frequency reflects consultations with Lautenberg, as well as public comments.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

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