House Votes to Prevent EPA from Easing Toxics Reporting Requirements

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed an amendment that denies EPA any funds to implement or enforce the agency's proposed "Burden Reduction" rule that would relax reporting requirements for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., sponsored the amendment, which was attached to the fiscal year 2007 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill (H.R. 5386). Pallone's amendment passed 231-187, with 182 Democrats supporting it and 172 Republicans voting against it.

Pallone, when introducing the amendment on the House floor, noted that TRI was created in response to the Union Carbide chemical explosion in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands.

"We have the program so we know where we might have the potential for another Bhopal, but also so we know where slow, silent releases of toxic chemicals could pose serious threats to public health," Pallone said.

EPA Proposes that Reporting Take Place Every Other Year

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 to lower reporting thresholds so that more companies are eligible to use the shorter and less-detailed TRI form, called "Form A." EPA also is proposing that companies report toxic chemical releases to TRI every other year instead of every year.

Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy for the Washington-based government watchdog group OMB Watch, characterized the House vote as a "clear message to the EPA that [lawmakers] and their constituents value the public's right to know about toxic pollution."

"The EPA's attempts to roll back reporting on toxic pollution are unacceptable to so many Americans and their representatives have expressed that with their vote," Moulton said.

OMB Watch, which attempted to galvanize opposition to the proposed Burden Reduction rule through a letter-writing campaign, says that EPA received more than 113,000 public comments on the rule. Among the comments EPA received was a letter signed by 56 members of Congress urging the agency to withdraw its rule proposal.

Tiahrt: Pallone Amendment an 'Assault' on American Jobs

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., objected to Pallone's amendment, calling it "a direct assault on the jobs in America." He said the TRI reporting requirements are particularly onerous for small businesses, and he cited data from the Small Business Administration Advocacy Group estimating that regulatory compliance cost manufacturing firms with fewer than 20 employees $21,919 per employee in 2004 compared to $8,748 per employee for firms with 500 or more workers.

"The average citizen does not gain any public health benefits" from the TRI, Tiahrt said on the House floor. "Instead, small businesses have to comply with the EPA reporting rule and are literally wasting tens of millions of dollars every year, and it is costing us good-paying jobs. These jobs end up in other countries, offshore."

Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., who chairs the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, accepted Pallone's amendment "with the understanding that we will work with EPA to determine how we can accomplish the amendment's goals without placing unnecessary reporting burdens on businesses that release no toxics or have only trace amounts."

The amendment, along with the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill which sets EPA's budget now move over to the Senate.

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