Friday, November 11, 2005

TRI changes: see no evil

Those of us who have worked with communities on toxics issues over the years know the importance of the Toxic Release Inventory, an imperfect but valuable tool for communities to see the kind and amount of toxic crap being released each year by industry into their environment. The public availability of TRI data is widely credited with encouraging companies to reduce their emissions an estimated 60% since the TRI started in 1968. The last five years of EPA data has shown a 42% decrease in releases of some 600 chemicals now under TRI reporting requirements.

TRI has been freely and easily available on the net. It has drawbacks. Many facilities don't have to report (there is a trigger for reporting that is fairly high in terms of the amount that is released). And annual reporting is pretty coarse temporal resolution. But all that might change under new EPA proposals. For the worse.

OMB Watch just issued an alert that EPA is proposing important changes:
The EPA has proposed three changes, each of which would dramatically cut information available to the public on toxic pollution. The agency is proposing to:

• Move from the current annual reporting requirement to every other year reporting for all facilities, eliminating half of all TRI data;

• Allow companies to release ten times as much pollution before being required to report the details of how much toxic pollution was produced and where it went;

• Permit facilities to withhold information on low-level production of persistent bioacculuative toxins (PBTs), including lead and mercury, which are dangerous even in very small quantities because they are toxic, persist in the environment, and build up in people's bodies.

These proposals are part of EPA efforts to reduce the amount of paperwork companies must file. In seeking to reduce the reporting burden on industry, however, EPA has been aggressively pursuing major changes to the TRI program with little consideration of the vital information communities will lose under these changes. Many public interest groups have asserted that the TRI program does not impose any excessive or unnecessary burden on companies.
We have a little less than 60 days to submit comments. OMB Watch is making it easy: here.

Another example of Bush "keeping us safe." What we don't know won't hurt us?