GAO: OMB Drove EPA to Rush Toxic Release Rule

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report claims EPA was pressured by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to rush through a rule-making process that would allow more than 3,500 facilities to not disclose the amount of toxic chemicals they produce, store and discharge.

EPA hurried through a series of steps to finalize the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Burden Reduction Final Rule in order to meet OMB's deadline in reducing “the reporting burden on industry” for small businesses, GAO said.

The rule, which was issued by EPA on Dec. 22, 2006, raised the release threshold from 500 pounds to 2,000 pounds for any toxic chemical. This means that facilities — as many as 3,500 — discharging less than 2,000 pounds of toxic chemicals no longer need to provide detailed information about their chemical releases.

The change, GAO said, would result in making more than 22,000 of the nearly 90,000 TRI reports unavailable to hundreds of communities throughout the country. In addition, many commenters, including the attorneys general of 12 states and EPA's Science Advisory Board, stated that the changes would significantly reduce the amount of useful TRI information.

Prior to the rulemaking, facilities that manufactured, processed or used any of the 581 individual chemicals and 30 chemical categories had to report the amount released into the air, soil or water to EPA and their respective states on an annual basis, as dictated by the prvious Toxic Release Inventory law. Former President Ronald Reagan signed the law after the 1984 Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal India killed between 2,500 and 5,000 people.

The report noted that EPA estimated that businesses would save close to $6 million from the reduced reporting burden, a figure GAO said was inflated by as much as 25 percent and based on outdated information from OMB.

In response to the report's release, EPA disagreed with GAO's conclusions, claiming they implemented the December 2006 TRI rule to “put into place important incentives to reduce chemical emissions and increase recycling and treatment as alternatives to disposal and other releases.”

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