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Publication date: Nov. 16, 2005


A group of senators from both parties wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson Nov. 10, 2005, expressing grave concern over the agency's proposed new cutbacks in public information under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

In September, EPA announced two new regulatory initiatives. One would raise the threshold for numerical reporting on the worst toxics from 500 pounds/year to 5,000 pounds/year allowing companies to report on a "short form." The other would reduce the current requirement for companies to report estimated toxic emissions annually, requiring them to report only once every two years. EPA justified the move as a response to industry complaints that the requirements were too burdensome. TRI collects data from about 24,000 facilities nationwide about their toxic releases to air, water, and land.

"We are concerned," the senators wrote, "that alternate year reporting would deny citizens up-to-date information about local toxic releases, reduce incentives to minimize waste generation, withhold important information from public health agencies and undermine the ability of states and EPA to guide their compliance assistance and enforcement priorities."

The TRI has been a key tool for environmental reporters not only because it offers the only complete national overview of toxic pollution, but because it allows reporters to track that pollution on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood and year-by-year basis.

While changes of a few thousand pounds in the toxics reporting threshold may not seem like much in a national context, the senators wrote, "neighbors and communities surrounding a facility that releases thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals consider the data invaluable."

Signing the letter were Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jim Jeffords (Independent-VT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In an op-ed article, EPA Assistant Administrator Kimberly Nelson wrote that EPA's plan "would collect 99 percent of the same data while reducing the substantial burden imposed on small companies."

But the senators challenged EPA's claim that the plan would reduce the work burden on industry. "Since facilities under this proposal will still need to calculate the volume of their toxic releases," they wrote, "we are unclear how allowing use of the shortened reporting form will result in any meaningful cost savings.

Environmental groups, using EPA data, have argued that some 25 percent of communities would lose all numerical data on toxics under EPA's plan.

The 6 senators asked EPA to provide a state-by-state list of toxic releases between 500 and 4,999 pounds, as well as releases of persistent bio-accumulative chemicals.

The deadline for public comments on EPA's first proposal (threshold increase) is Dec. 5, 2005. EPA would not formally propose the second one (biennial reporting) until the fall of 2006.

Last revised January 22, 2013

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