Congress Members Urge EPA to Withdraw Proposed Changes to TRI

A letter signed by 56 members of Congress urges EPA to withdraw several proposed changes to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), asserting that the changes would "seriously undermine the effectiveness of this highly successful program."

The letter initiated by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Hilda Solis, D-Calif., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. says the overall volume of toxic chemical releases has dropped by 59 percent since TRI's reporting requirements began in 1988.

"Not only has TRI given citizens a much fuller picture of the contaminants they live with, it has also encouraged companies to reduce their toxic releases," the letter says.

The letter is dated Jan. 13 which was the deadline for public comments on EPA's proposed changes and is signed by a contingent of 54 Democrats and two Republicans.

EPA in October initiated formal procedures to relax reporting requirements for TRI, a publicly accessible database listing the type and quantity of toxic chemicals that companies release into the environment. The agency says the proposed changes are part of an ongoing effort to reduce the amount of paperwork companies must fill out.

The agency is proposing that companies report toxic chemical releases to TRI every other year instead of every year. EPA claims alternate-year reporting would save the agency about $2 million during non-reporting years money the agency then could redirect toward improvements to the TRI database and other efforts "that would enhance the value of the data to the public," EPA said in the Oct. 4 Federal Register.

EPA also is proposing to lower reporting thresholds so that more companies are eligible to use the shorter and less-detailed TRI form, called "Form A."

Such changes in reporting thresholds, the Jan. 13 letter asserts, "would allow many facilities to avoid reporting specific details about toxic waste releases into the environment and instead to merely report the names of chemicals released."

"For example, every community in 64 different California zip codes, 27 zip codes in New Jersey and 27 zip codes in Illinois could lose access to all detailed information about local facilities," the letter states. "Under these changes, more than 22,000 detailed release forms would be lost entirely, leaving more than 2,000 communities many low-income or minority without critical information [on] TRI chemicals affecting residents."

EPA defends the proposed changes by estimating that they would save industry 165,000 hours every year while still ensuring that 99 percent of toxic releases are reported on the longer, more-detailed "Form R."

Advocacy Group: EPA Has Gotten an 'Earful'

OMB Watch, a government watchdog group based in Washington, claims that more than 70,000 citizens voiced opposition to EPA's proposed changes to TRI during the public comment period.

"While EPA has not officially announced the number of comments it received, according to more than a dozen organizations that provided online tools for submitting comments, at least 70,000 comments were submitted," the organization says in a press release. A phone call placed to EPA to verify OMB Watch's claim was not immediately returned.

Among the comments sent to EPA was a 40-page broadside from the attorneys general of 12 states asserting that EPA's proposed changes to TRI "would significantly weaken" the program.

The agency's proposed changes "violate the old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" the letter states. The letter was submitted by the attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin.

"Rather than repair any problems with the TRI program, the contemplated changes harm it by raising the reporting thresholds for nearly all chemicals currently subject to TRI requirements," the letter says. " … In addition to being contrary to the public interest and sound policy, the proposed changes would violate the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, the Pollution Prevention Act and the Administrative Procedure Act."

The attorneys general also contest EPA's estimates of how much time and money companies would save if the proposed changes to TRI took effect. The agency estimates that its proposed TRI reporting requirements would save businesses an annual total of 164,432 hours and $7.38 million.

The 12 attorneys general contend in their letter that $7.38 million represent approximately 0.055 percent of the chemical industry's 2004 profits of $13.5 billion. The letter adds that "as low as these burden reduction figures are," they likely overestimate the real savings to employers.

For more on EPA's proposed changes to TRI, read "Public Comment for Proposed Changes to TRI Ends Tomorrow."

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