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White House worked to weaken pollution reporting for communities

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

mapcruzin_TRI.jpgIn response to White House pressure, the U.S. EPA broke its own longstanding procedures for scientific and economic review of pollution reporting rules for thousands of factories nationwide in a bid to reduce the regulatory burden on corporate polluters, according to a little-noticed November 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ watchdog agency.

The 2006 proposal to weaken the program, known as the Toxic Release Inventory, caused an uproar nationally, but the White House role has not been thoroughly documented until now. According to the GAO [.pdf]:

GAO concluded that, while EPA estimated that its rule would affect reporting on less than 1 percent of the total release pounds nationwide, this aggregate national estimate masked the disproportionately large impact the rule would have on individual communities across the country. GAO’s analysis indicated that EPA’s rule would allow more than 3,500 facilities to no longer report detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices. As a result, more than 22,000 of the nearly 90,000 TRI reports could no longer be available to hundreds of communities in states throughout the country. In addition, many commenters including the attorneys general of 12 states and EPA’s Science Advisory Board stated that the changes will significantly reduce the amount of useful TRI information. EPA’s estimated savings from the reduced reporting burden associated with the TRI rule—3 percent of total annual burden hours, worth about $6 million annually—are likely overstated.

The TRI only requires companies to report their pollution; it doesn’t require them to do anything about it, through regulation or any other means. But the mere publication of pollution levels to air, water and land has prompted thousands of embarrassed companies to cut the harmful waste they dump on their neighbors in thousands of communities. It’s just about the most cost-effective federal pollution law on the books, and as a group that harnesses the “the power of information” to protect the environment, we’re big TRI fans.

So EPA slashed the program, blinding hundreds of communities from seeing pollution data for thousands of facilities, all for the sake of overstated savings of a few million bucks for the polluters. Twelve state attorneys general protested the rule change.

EWG took a hard look at this problem in California as it would affect reporting of the some of the worst chemicals in commerce: persistent bioaccumulative toxins.

EPA's proposed rollback of the TRI would terminate reporting of all pollution and disposal information for 228,000 pounds of five PBTs at 123 facilities in 35 states. Ohio would be hardest hit, losing data on 22,000 pounds of hazardous pollutants at 14 facilities.

Photo: MapCruzin'.