Advocacy Groups Call Proposed EPA Rule Changes Dangerous
White House-backed changes would drastically alter the requirements for reporting releases of dangerous chemicals
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.