Monday, September 26, 2005

EPA Proposes Easing Reporting Requirements On Toxic Pollution

The Bush Administration wants to quit forcing companies to report small releases of toxic pollutants and allow them to submit reports on their pollution less frequently.

Saying it wants to ease its regulatory burden on companies, the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 21 proposed adopting a "short form" that would excuse companies from disclosing spills and other releases of toxic substances if:

--They claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical. That's 10 times the current exemption.

--They store onsite but claim to release "zero" amounts of the worst pollutants, such as mercury, DDT and PCBs, that persist in the environment and work up the food chain.

The EPA also wants to change the annual Toxics Release Inventory from an annual report to every other year. The annual report was launched by the Reagan Administration, under a 1986 community right-to-know law.

Why make these changes? The Bush Administration has always placed corporate "needs" above individual protections.

Ironically, the Associated Press reports that big chemical companies didn't necessarily seek a change in the need for annual reporting.

"We are so in compliance it's not funny," Andrew Liveris, president of The Dow Chemical Company, told the AP. "We've adjusted to it many years ago."

***

Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT) called the proposal "a frontal assault" on one of the nation's most successful environmental laws.

"This proposal would deny communities up-to-date information about local toxic releases, reduce incentives to minimize the generation of toxic waste and undermine the ability of public health agencies and researchers to identify important trends," Jeffords said.

***

How much pollution is released into the air? In the latest inventory EPA released in May, overall chemical pollution fell more than 6 percent from 2002 to 2003, the latest year for which total figures are available, though there were increases in levels of mercury, PCBs and dioxin. Some 4.44 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released in 2003, compared with 4.74 billion pounds in 2002.

It's a cost-benefit analysis. The EPA proposal saves companies money by reducing the amount of paperwork that has to be filed. And in exchange for that reduction in costs, the American people have less knowledge about what toxic pollutants are being released and what toxic spills have occurred.

Sadly, the Bush Administration considers this a fair trade-off.

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