Bush Rollback Will Hide Data on 600,000 Pounds of Toxic Chemicals in California
Stolen Inventory: The EPA Rollback
On September 21, 2005, the EPA announced its intention to roll back reporting requirements for all chemicals under the Toxics Release Inventory [EPA 2005a]. The rationale for this proposal was to reduce the reporting burden on industry, although it is notable that outside of EPA, there was no perceptible demand for the reporting changes that were proposed, nor were any presented along with the proposal. The EPA proposal had two major components: (1) Increase the amount of chemical releases that trigger detailed TRI reporting from 500 to 5,000 pounds per year. (2) Eliminate annual reporting and replace it with reporting every other year.
The EPA offered no rationale for the proposal other than its desire to ease the regulatory burden on business. But some prominent industries joined in the widespread outcry against the proposal, saying the TRI helped them reduce the use of toxic chemicals and keep track of chemicals they used, and few spoke out in support. In the end, EPA received 122,386 written comments on the proposal. A December 2006 report by OMB Watch broke down the numbers:
- 121,691 comments from private citizens opposing any change in the TRI.
- 442 comments in opposition from environmental, health, labor, faith and other public interest groups.
- 199 comments in opposition from government agencies and elected officials at the federal, state and local levels.
- A total of 34 comments supporting the changes, mostly from affected industries.
In addition, EPA received other strong criticism and resistance to the changes to TRI reporting:
- The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan appropriations rider preventing EPA from implementing the rule changes.
- Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) placed a hold on a Bush administration nominee to protest the proposals.
- EPA's Science Advisory Board formally opposed the proposals.
- The Environmental Council of States, an association of state governmental environmental agencies, passed a resolution urging EPA to withdraw the proposals.
The overwhelming response did prompt EPA to modify its proposal. When the final rule was published in December 2006, the proposal for alternate-year reporting was gone, and the threshhold for reporting chemical use was raised not to 5,000 pounds, but 2,000 pounds. However, raising the threshhold by a factor of four rather than a factor of 10 still will eliminate reporting of millions of pounds of toxics chemicals nationwide.
In February 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report analyzing the effect of the rollback. The report found that "TRI reporting changes will likely have a significant impact on information available to the public about dozens of toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities in states and communities across the country. " Impacts included:
"Detailed information from more than 22,000 [facilities] could no longer be reported . . . .affecting more than 33 percent of reports in California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Second, we estimate that states could lose all quantitative information about releases of some chemicals, ranging from 3 in South Dakota to 60 in Georgia. Third, we estimate that 3,565 facilities . . . would no longer have to report any quantitative information to the TRI. " [GAO 2007]