After holding back environmental legislation passed in the late days of the Clinton administration, President Bush announced Tuesday that he will uphold rules requiring companies to disclose potentially toxic lead emissions. This is the second Clinton-era environmental policy Bush has pushed forward this week. On Monday, Bush gave his blessing to rules on wetlands.
EPA Christine Todd Whitman made a rare visit to the White House to announce the move, saying it imposed a "much more stringent" reporting requirement for companies that use and release lead.
"I am confident this action is an important step toward protecting the health of children and expanding communities'' right-to-know," said Whitman. "Lead poisoning can cause learning problems, brain damage and hyperactivity in children. Despite the significant progress we have made in reducing lead levels in children''s blood, the president believes we can do more."
Under the rule, any plant that manufactures, processes or uses 100 pounds of lead or more a year will have to report that to EPA.
Previously, the rule required facilities report lead and lead compound emissions if they manufactured or processed more than 250,000 pounds annually or used more than 100,000 pounds annually.
Whitman said the rules would require 3,600 more companies to report their lead storage to EPA, which makes the information available to towns and communities.
The new requirements to report lead and lead compound emissions will begin in 2001.
Recognizing industry concerns regarding the burden of this new TRI reporting and the uncertainty as to when reporting would begin, EPA said it plans to assist companies in the compliance efforts between now and July 2002 when the first reports are due. But EPA''s assistance program is not sufficient enough for some business groups.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), a small business lobby group, said it plans to file a suit against EPA next week arguing the agency failed to adequately take into account the needs of small businesses as required by law.
"The rule extends a burdensome paperwork requirement to smaller businesses and it could wind up costing jobs," said Aaron Taylor, NFIB''s policy communications manager.
Environmental groups, who recently attacked Bush following environmental decisions to suspend rules to reduce arsenic in drinking water and to abandon the Kyoto treaty, applauded the move.
"It''s good news that the Bush administration is taking a first step by upholding the public''s basic right to know about pollution that threatens children''s health," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "The president should continue expanding our right to know."
"I feel their pain at having to let stand a Clinton-era environmental rule," said Paul Orum, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Working Group on Community Right-to-Know. "Evidently they''ve figured out the public really doesn''t want lead in their kid''s blood any more than they want more arsenic in drinking water."
Orum said the decision still faces legal challenges from the lead industry, which he believes the Bush administration may not vigorously contest.
Some environmental activists also said they saw the emissions decision as a ploy ahead of Earth Day on Sunday to improve Bush''s environmental reputation, which has been tarnished.
"On the eve of Earth Day, polls show that President Bush''s attacks on the environment are out of touch with American values, and the administration clearly recognizes they need to color the President''s image a little more green," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. "The real test in protecting families from lead pollution will be whether the Bush administration forcefully defends these standards in court when polluters try to reverse these safeguards."
by Virginia Sutcliffe