House Passes Right-to-Know Amendment to Save TRI
by Guest Blogger, 5/31/2006
On May 18, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from rolling back reporting requirements for our nation's worst polluters. By passing the Pallone-Solis Toxic Right-To-Know Amendment to the Interior Appropriations Bill, the House took an important step to preserve EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, by prohibiting the agency from spending any money to finalize its plans to cut toxic chemical reporting requirements.
In September 2005, EPA proposed changes to the TRI that would let thousands of large industrial facilities stop reporting their pollution emissions. The proposals would cut off public access to vital health and safety data that are used by emergency planners, community groups, researchers, and medical professionals.
The amendment, introduced by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Hilda Solis (D-CA), was objected to by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) who claimed that EPA's proposed rollbacks were needed to relieve small business of the expensive task of reporting. After the objection Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC), who chairs the Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee, accepted the amendment with the understanding that EPA would work to reduce reporting burden on small business that had no or very small releases. After what appeared to be an affirmative voice vote, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IL) objected and called for a roll call vote. The vote was postponed until later in the evening when the amendment passed by a wide margin of 231 to 187. Forty-eight Republicans voted with 182 Democrats and one Independent in support of the amendment, while 15 Democrats voted with 172 Republicans against it.
More than 113,000 public comments to EPA, thousands of emails and calls to Congress, a May 17 letter to members of the House from 196 organizations, and testimony from public health professionals and emergency responders, all played a role in compelling the House to vote against EPA's scheme to relax reporting standards.
"Lawmakers have sent a clear message to the EPA that they and their constituents value the public’s right to know about toxic pollution," stated Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy for OMB Watch. "The EPA's attempts to rollback reporting on toxic pollution are unacceptable to so many Americans and their representatives have expressed that with their vote."
A May 17 report by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) also underlies the need for more, not less, information on toxic chemical releases. The report, "Toxic Chemicals and Children’s Health in North America," focuses on children’s exposure to cancer-causing industrial chemicals and pollutants. The report is based on data collected under the TRI program and its Canadian counterpart, the National Pollutant Release Inventory.
The CEC, an international organization made up of Canada, Mexico and the United States, was created under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and promote the effective enforcement of environmental law.
"More monitoring of toxic chemical releases and exposures" is among the top recommendations made in the report. This particularly important to protecting children who "are uniquely vulnerable to many environmental threats," according to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information.
Now the fight to save the TRI will move to the Senate, where interest in this issue has been ongoing. A bipartisan letter from Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jim Jeffords (I-VT), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), for instance, was sent to the Government Accountability Office, requesting an investigation into whether EPA had adequately considered the impacts of reduced TRI data on communities and data users, including federal and state programs. Additionally, the same day the House voted to suspend funding for EPA's efforts to reduce TRI reporting, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a confirmation hearing in which the issue was repeatedly raised. Molly O'Neill has been nominated to be EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information, which oversees the TRI program. Several Senators asked O'Neill about the EPA's proposals and expressed great concern over the potential loss of information on toxic pollution. O'Neill voiced her strong support for the program but could not provide any details on the proposals as she has been part of their development.
The Senate may take up the Interior Appropriation bill, which sets EPA's budget, sometime in late June. If a similar right-to-know amendment is attached to the Senate Interior Appropriations bill, a measure to prevent EPA from spending money to finalize its planned reporting changes would almost certainly become law.