RED ALERT! Only You Can Save the EPA Toxic Release Inventory!
- RED ALERT! Only You Can Save the EPA Toxic Release Inventory!
Though far from perfect, the EPA’s annual Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) has been a landmark tool in the effort to bring toxic pollutants under control. It collects and reports data from polluters of every stripe that helps us understand how much of what kind of pollution is released where. New EPA proposals, however, would reduce the frequency of the TRI to every other year and allow polluters to release ten times more toxins before being required to report them. The good news is there’s still time to help prevent industrial interests from hijacking this crucial program.
The EPA’s annual Toxic Release Inventory is mandated by the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. Compiled every year from data provided by some 23,000 industrial and federal facilities, the TRI measures virtually every kind of pollution created by almost 650 different chemicals. This includes facilities that place TRI-listed chemicals in on- or off-site underground injection wells, landfills, or surface impoundments or release them into the air and/or water.
The information gathered by the TRI comes from any and all companies that manufacture or process any chemical on its official list of toxins in quantities of 25,000 lbs. or more, or who "otherwise use" any TRI-listed chemical in amounts of 10,000 lbs and up. (This "other use" category includes pollutants like dioxins that are created as by-products of industrial processes.) The reporting thresholds for so-called Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic (PBT) compounds like lead and PCBs are much lower. Any company manufacturing, processing, or using over 100 lbs. of these more toxic materials must report its releases of them. For dioxins, the reporting threshold is lower still?just 1/10 of a gram.
Any company that meets these thresholds for any chemical it deals with must account for all releases of the chemical(s) in question and outline their recycling and pollution prevention measures.
TRI laws also allow for an alternative minimum reporting threshold of one million lbs. for each TRI-listed chemical that’s made, processed, or "otherwise used" by a facility provided that the owner or operator of that facility calculates that they will not release more than 500 lbs. total of that chemical into the air, water or soil. (Note that PBTs are not eligible for this alternative reporting.) In other words, if you are a big factory and you release over 500 lbs of Chemical A into the environment, you have to supply details of those releases to the government. If you are a smaller factory you have to supply release information for any chemical you deal with in amounts over 25,000 or 10,000 lbs. depending on where it appears in your production chain.
The resulting data has been a invaluable tool for activists and others concerned about their families’ health. It’s allowed the public to know just what kind of pollution is present in their communities and where it’s coming from. Now, however, the EPA has proposed a new set of requirements for the TRI that would have the effect of gutting this important regulatory tool.
On September 21, the EPA officially notified Congress that in 2006 it will consider changes to the report’s frequency that would mandate reporting every two years instead of annually. In the meantime, the agency is also moving forward with a proposal to raise the alternative minimum reporting threshold from 500 lbs to 5,000 lbs.
If allowed to take effect, the result of this change would relieve countless factories and industrial facilities from their obligation to report their pollution. With so much pollution allowed to escape under the regulatory radar, the TRI would be reduced to a shadow of its former self and citizens would know much less about the pollution being released into their communities. That’s why we’re asking all our friends and customers to help save the TRI.
Here’s what you can do:
Send the EPA a comment letter. Tell them to leave the TRI alone and keep its properly low reporting thresholds intact and unchanged. Tell the agency to preserve your right to know as much as possible about what pollution is present in your community’s air, water and soil. Let regulators know that they you believe that weakening this law by raising the reporting thresholds does not in any way support the public interest or protect public health but instead simply makes it easier for polluters to pollute more. Insist that they maintain annual reporting and remove from consideration any and all plans to move to an every-other-year schedule for data collection and reporting.
It is important that your letter refer to Docket ID No. TRI-2005-0073. Make sure your e-mail subject line and/or the heading of any communication you send contains this docket number in order to prevent your comments from being discarded or lost.
The deadline for comments on the EPA’s proposed changes to the TRI is December 5th. Send your comments on the proposed changes to the following EPA e-mail address: oie.docket@.... Fax comments can be sent to 202-566-0741.
Or you can mail your thoughts to Office of Environmental Information Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20460. Attention Docket ID No. TRI-2005-0073.
Thanks for helping to keep America greener and cleaner!
For more information about the TRI and the proposed changes visit http://www.epa.gov/tri/index.htm
Administrator Johnson and EPA staff
EPA Docket ID No. TRI-2005-0073
Dear Administrator Johnson,
I am writing regarding Docket ID No. TRI-2005-0073.
I am concerned by the EPA's proposed changes to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. For almost 20 years, the TRI program has been successful in making communities around the country safer and healthier by providing critical information on the toxic chemicals released into our land, water, and air.
Raising the reporting threshold to 10 times its current level, moving from annual reporting to every other year reporting, and allowing for less-detailed reporting on PBT chemicals poses a significant threat to our nation's health, safety, and environmental quality. As the United States responds to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the EPA should recognize that there is a need for sufficient reporting on toxic chemicals released into our environment.
American citizens should retain the right to know what toxic chemicals are being released in their communities. I strongly urge the EPA to abandon all of its burden reduction proposals in the docket TRI-2005-0073 and to withdraw its plans to move from an annual to a biennial reporting system.
(Please fee free to add your own comments)
EPA Might Relax Toxic Report Rules
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By MIKE SALINERO msalinero@...
Published: Nov 3, 2005
TAMPA - -- For the past 18 years, any citizen with access to a computer could discover what kind of toxic chemicals were being released in his or her community.
The Toxic Release Inventory has become the great equalizer for outgunned and underfunded grass-roots groups in their battles against pollution. Factories, shipyards, refineries and paper mills must make yearly reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, listing what toxic chemicals they discharge and in what amounts.
"That's the only way we would have ever known that we had five Super Fund sites in Taylor County ... because the EPA doesn't voluntarily tell you those kinds of things," said Joy Ezell, an environmental activist in Perry.
Now, the Bush administration wants to relax reporting requirements. Under a two-pronged proposal, polluters would switch from annual reports to every other year, and industries that discharge less than 5,000 pounds of chemicals a year could fill out shorter, less-detailed forms.
Congress created the inventory after Union Carbide's poison gas release in 1984 killed thousands in Bhophal, India. Since then, toxic emissions have plunged by 65 percent. Even industry groups give TRI credit for the reductions.
Environmentalists, journalists and citizen advocacy groups oppose the changes. They say reporting every two years will delay access to information that citizens need to protect their health and the environment. The most current information available on the TRI database is for 2003.
The EPA is taking public comments on the proposed changes for the next 12 months. The EPA can make the revisions without congressional approval.
EPA officials say the changes will increase efficiency and lessen the reporting burden on businesses. The EPA estimates that TRI reporting costs industries $650 million a year
"We had concerns raised over the years that the burden of the program, especially on small business, was heavy," said Mike Flynn, director of the EPA office that oversees TRI. "We continue to look at ways to be as efficient as we can in collecting information."
The chemical industry started pushing for biennial reporting in 1999, said Mike Walls, of the lobbying group American Chemistry Council. Walls said reporting every other year will save plants money only if they don't have to collect data in off years.
"Let's say you report every other year except when emissions vary by 10 percent a year," Walls said. "That's still requiring monitoring data in that alternative year."
Critics of the proposed changes point out that industry opposed TRI at its inception in 1987.
Paul Templet, head of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality from 1988 to 1992, remembers how businessmen complained that cleaning up the environment would "run jobs off."
Templet found the claim nonsensical: Louisiana not only led the nation in toxic discharges at that time but also suffered a 12.4 percent unemployment rate.
"They didn't leave; in fact the jobs came," he said. "We created 25,000 jobs in that four years, and it was purely from environmental spending."
Industries found that redesigning their plants to cut pollution also made operations more efficient. At the same time, Louisiana's toxic emissions dropped 50 percent by 1992. Templet credits TRI.
"It's probably the single most important environmental requirement we have," he said.
Researchers who use TRI regularly say biennial reporting will leave gaping holes in their data, making it harder to quantify patterns.
"If somebody gets better or worse, you can't see that for two years," said Joe Davis, a freelance writer and member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Several Tampa Bay area industries said the proposed changes would make little difference in their operations.
"Any relaxation of reporting requirements is welcome, but we're accustomed to reporting every year, so it's something we're living with and can continue to live with," said Tom Edwards, environmental manager at CF Industries in Plant City.
COMMENT ON PROPOSAL
•To submit comments on the EPA's proposed changes, visit www.regulations.govand follow the online instructions, or docket.epa.gov/edkpub/index.jsp. Send e-mail to oei.docket@....
Mail comments to the Office of Environmental Information Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code: 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.,Washington DC 20460. Attention Docket ID No. TRI 2005 0073.
•To learn what industries are discharging toxic chemicals in your community, visit epa.gov/tri/.
"It's probably the single most important environmental requirement we have."
PAUL TEMPLET Former head of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality on TRI reports
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