Advocacy Groups Call Proposed EPA Rule Changes Dangerous

White House-backed changes would drastically alter the requirements for reporting releases of dangerous chemicals

Proposed rule changes at the Environmental Protection Agency, backed by the Bush White House, would drastically alter the requirements for reporting releases of dangerous chemicals. It's touted as a tax-dollar-saving way to decrease the paperwork burden on small businesses, but environmental groups, first responders, and health advocates are livid, claiming the change would cause 922 communities nationwide, more than 10% of the nation's ZIP codes, to lose all numerical data on local polluters, hindering emergency planning and risking public health.

The program they want to gut is the Toxic Release Inventory, regarded as the nation's premier tool for notifying the public about toxic pollution and said to have been invaluable following the Gulf Coast hurricanes. It was signed into law by President Reagan in 1986, in response to a deadly chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, on Dec. 4, 1984, where thousands died in a Union Carbide pesticide plant poison gas cloud. "On the anniversary of the deadliest chemical accident in history, [the EPA] wants to help corporate polluters hide toxic pollution," said Luke Metzger, of Texas Public Interest Research Group, which says 217 Texas facilities would no longer be required to report toxic chemical releases to the public, and communities in 56 ZIP codes will lose all information about chemical releases in their neighborhoods.

A TexPIRG report released last Thursday outlined the three-fold change proposed for the program. It includes: "a rule to propose that companies be allowed to release ten times as much pollution before they are required to report their releases; a rule that would allow companies to withhold information about some of the most dangerous chemicals, such as lead and mercury; and a notification to Congress that [EPA] Administrator [Bob] Johnson intends to release a rule next fall to change the frequency of reporting to the program from every year to every other year."

The EPA claims that the change to every-other-year reporting will result in a negligible loss of reporting data as well. Environmental groups disagree. "The EPA's proposed toxic data cutbacks will result in an inaccurate picture of pollution at the local level, hamper our ability to prepare for emergencies, and provide an incentive for facilities to pollute in our communities," said Tom Natan, director of research for the National Environmental Trust. He pointed out that many nonproduction emissions (also known as upset emissions) or releases due to accidents and routine maintenance, which account for millions of tons of emissions each year, may go unreported under the new rules. He said accidents such as the Bhopal disaster and the recent 100-ton toxic benzene spill in China fall into this category.

The EPA is accepting public comment on the proposed TRI changes through Jan. 13, 2006; a form is available at the NET Web site, www.net.org. For more info, see www.texpirg.org and www.epa.gov/tri.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Schroeder Sues Knee and City

    Austin Police Officer Julie Schroeder, who was terminated last month in connection with the June 9 fatal shooting of Daniel Rocha, seeks an injunction to keep Knee from interfering with her ability to investigate and build a case that could result in her reinstatement

    Sheriff's Unions Back Eckhardt for Precinct 2 Commissioner

    Both unions are at odds with current Commissioner Sonleitner

    AISD Students Fare Well in NAEP Results

    Austin fourth- and eighth-graders out-performed the nation in math and peer urban districts in reading

    State May Have Executed Innocent Man

    Newspaper investigation suggests that Ruben Cantu, who was executed in 1993 for a robbery and shooting murder in San Antonio, may have been innocent
  • Kidnappings in Iraq Hit Home

    Austinite Charlie Jackson was scheduled to be a part of the most recent Christian Peacemakers Team delegation but opted, at the behest of his family, against spending two consecutive Thanksgivings in Iraq

    Weed Watch: Denver Police Ignore Pot Possession Law

    Although 54% of Denver, Colo., voters approved a measure last month legalizing possession of up to 1 oz. of marijuana by adults over 21, law enforcers continue on as though the law doesn't exist

    Austin's Energy Independence Challenge

    A national contest to be the first city to generate 50% of its energy using renewable sources like wind, solar, and biomass is under way, and Austin wants to win

    Laney Won't Run in '06

    Senior state Democratic rep promises to remain active in Austin's public arena after leaving office next year

    Horses Stolen! Barn Door Confirmed Unlocked!

    Long suppressed, Department of Justice memorandum recommended that the re-redistricting map forced upon the Legislature by Tom DeLay and his cronies should be rejected, because it did not sufficiently protect the rights of minority Texans

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle