by Brian Turnbaugh*, 3/11/2009
The weakening of the cornerstone of environmental right-to-know laws by former President Bush was finally reversed today. The omnibus spending bill signed by Obama includes language that restores the previous reporting rules for the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), the highly successful program that provides the public with information on pollution released in communities nationwide.The Senate passed the spending bill last evening after Senator Harry Reid's cloture motion passed with 62 votes, ending debate on the controversial appropriations bill. The bill had passed the House in late February. Regardless of one's opinion on the rest of the massive legislation or the process by which it passed, the 13 lines restoring TRI are a long overdue correction to what was a misguided, unscrupulous attack on the public's right to know and a dangerous subversion of an effective tool for protecting public health and the environment. OMB Watch worked for years alongside hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals to stop the TRI rollback, and then to restore the reporting rules following the Bush EPA's stubborn thwarting of the public's will. The TRI program is still in need of improvements, and under the Obama administration we hope to upgrade this vital program and bring it into the twenty-first century. One remaining question is whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will apply the restored reporting rules to reports now being submitted for 2008 releases. It is crucial that the public not lose another year of data to the raised reporting thresholds. Companies must submit their 2008 reports by July 1 of this year, and it is likely some have done so already. EPA should make it clear to all companies that use of the Bush thresholds will be considered incorrect and rejected. Early-filers have plenty of time to revise their submissions and since companies already have all the records needed to report the detailed pollution data, it is merely a matter of having them fill out the correct form. We encourage EPA to act quickly to notify facilities that the weak reporting rules from last year no longer apply to 2008. Congress and the president have spoken.