Public Comment for Proposed Changes to TRI Ends Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the deadline for public comments on the controversial EPA proposals to ease the reporting requirements for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a publicly accessible database listing the type and quantity of toxic chemicals that companies release into the environment.

EPA in October initiated formal procedures to relax TRI reporting requirements, as 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 relax reporting requirements so that more companies are eligible to use the shorter and less-detailed TRI form, called "Form A."

The agency proposes to expand eligibility for Form A in two ways:

  • By allowing facilities that handle persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals to use the form currently, facilities with PBT chemicals are not eligible for Form A so long as the facilities have zero release of these chemicals into the environment. EPA claims this change would impact less than 1 percent of all PBT-related waste management.
  • By allowing facilities that manage or release a maximum of 5,000 pounds of non-PBT chemicals to use the form. Currently, only facilities that manage or release a maximum of 500 pounds of non-PBT chemicals can use Form A for TRI reporting.

Advocacy Groups: Proposed Changes Would Weaken TRI

While EPA in the Oct. 4 Federal Register said the proposed rules are part of its ongoing efforts to "reduce reporting burden … while continuing to provide valuable information to the public," advocacy groups such as Washington-based OMB Watch believe the changes would curtail the flow of vital information to the public.

In the days leading up to the Jan. 13 deadline, OMB Watch has been waging a last-ditch campaign to drum up opposition for the EPA proposals. OMB Watch plans to send a letter currently signed by more than 150 organizations, including AFL-CIO and Environmental Working Group to Congress asserting that the EPA proposals "will make it more difficult for citizens to track toxic pollution in their neighborhoods and take steps to reduce the impact" on the health of their families.

The National Environmental Trust on its Web site says the proposed changes "would severely weaken [TRI], deny the public information and set back EPA efforts to confront the most serious public issues related to toxic chemicals."

EPA defends the proposed changes by estimating that they will 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."

"Since TRI began in 1986, EPA has learned a great deal about the power that public information has to influence corporate behavior and empower communities, and we also have found news ways to use technology to reduce costs for everyone involved, improve data quality and speed the release of the information collected," EPA Chief Information Officer Kimberly Nelson said. "[This] proposal would provide burden reduction for approximately one-third of TRI reporters while still requiring facilities to report on all chemicals that they report on today."

Changes to TRI Would Create "Inaccurate Picture of Pollution"

An analysis by the National Environmental Trust concludes that as many one in 10 U.S. communities with industrial facilities would no longer receive information on toxic releases in their communities if proposed changes to the TRI are approved.

If the changes were enacted, Americans living in 922 zip codes would lose all numerical information about local toxic pollution and people in 1,608 zip codes would lose information from at least half of the facilities currently reporting, according to the nonprofit organization.

"The EPA proposed toxic data cutbacks will result in an inaccurate picture of pollution at the local level, hamper our ability to prepare for emergencies and provide an incentive for facilities to pollute in our communities," said Tom Natan, Ph.D., director of research for the organization. "After the wreckage we have seen in the past year alone in Gulf states, there is not a single good reason for putting polluter interests squarely ahead of public health and safety."

While the analysis finds that communities in all states would be affected by the proposed changes, it concludes that Utah, Nevada, Maryland, Maine, New Mexico and New York would be most impacted.

American Chemistry Council Objects to "Misinformation Campaign"

In response to the National Environment Trust analysis and other public comments made by advocacy groups, the American Chemistry Council issued a statement objecting to the "recent misinformation campaign that portrays TRI as a first responder tool."

"[F]irst responders rely on a series of different statutes and community relationships to help assure their safety when responding to incidents involving potentially dangerous substances," the council said in a press release. "This misinformation campaign does a disservice to the efforts of thousands of men and women in government and industry who protect communities throughout America."

According to the American Chemistry Council, U.S. chemical makers support the EPA proposals to relax TRI reporting requirements. The council credits the TRI program for reducing by more than 70 percent toxic emissions and releases from member facilities.

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