EPA Finalizes Rules for Toxics Release Inventory

by Matthew Madia, 1/9/2007

Just before the holidays, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered industry an early present — a final rule relaxing reporting requirements for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), the country's flagship database on toxic pollution. The agency has moved forward with these changes despite findings in an OMB Watch report, Against the Public's Will (released Dec. 14, 2006), that the American public is overwhelmingly opposed to a reduction in reporting on toxics.EPA has essentially maintained its original proposal in the final rule with only minor changes. The rule increases the reporting threshold for the majority of the 650-plus TRI chemicals tenfold, from 500 lbs. to 5,000 lbs., with a restriction that only 2,000 lbs. of the chemical may be released directly to the environment. Also, for the first time in the 18-year history of TRI, EPA is permitting reduced reporting for the most dangerous category of toxic chemicals, persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs). These ill-conceived changes will leave more people in the dark about what chemicals are in the air they breathe and water they drink.

EPA officials have claimed that the proposed rule does not de-list chemicals from the TRI program, but, according to the agency's own calculations, a 2,000-lb. threshold would likely eliminate detailed reporting for at least 16 chemicals. An initial OMB Watch analysis of the 2004 TRI data indicates that EPA may be underestimating the reporting loss for chemical pollutants. OMB Watch projects that EPA's reporting changes would have eliminated all detailed reporting on 39 chemicals and the reporting on more than half the pollution created for another 28 chemicals.

"This is a clear case of the agency disregarding the will of the American people," said Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy for OMB Watch. "The EPA has no scientific or health data supporting these changes — nothing to ensure public safety. The agency is only interested in saving polluting companies a few dollars, at the expense of public health."

"Americans who live near industrial facilities want to know what's going into their air and water," stated Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) at a press event organized by OMB Watch. "This [OMB Watch] report shows that the public supports the original intent of the TRI program — to give communities the right to know what kinds of toxic chemicals are being dumped in their backyards. ... [W]e will take every step necessary to stop [the changes] in Congress."

EPA's finalized rule:

  1. Fails to take into consideration the overwhelming opposition to EPA's ill-conceived ideas to reduce TRI reporting as clearly evidenced in OMB Watch's report.
  2. Leaves the public at greater risk of exposure to dangerous pollution and cripples state governments' ability to track toxic chemicals.
  3. Provides minimal savings to companies (estimated by EPA to be between $430 and $790 per chemical).

Against the Public's Will documented opposition to EPA's TRI proposals from 23 state governments and more than 120,000 average citizens, 60 members of Congress, 30 public health organizations, 40 labor organizations and 200 environmental and public interest organizations.

In the months following the close of the public docket, EPA received other strong criticism and resistance to the changes to TRI reporting:

  • The House of Representatives passed an appropriations rider preventing EPA from implementing the rule changes;
  • Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) placed a hold on a Bush administration nominee to protest the proposals;
  • EPA's Science Advisory Board formally, in a letter offering the agency unsolicited advice, opposed the proposals; and
  • The Environmental Council of States, an association of state governmental environmental agencies, passed a resolution urging EPA to withdraw its proposals.

The OMB Watch report and statements from Lautenberg, Pallone, and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) are available at our TRI Resource Center.