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Restore right to know.

Byline: The Register-Guard

For nearly two decades, U.S. companies have been required to report detailed information about their chemical releases to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has published it in an easy-to-access online database known as the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

Last month, the Bush administration gave the chemical industry an early Christmas present by exempting thousands of companies from having to provide detailed information to the EPA about the toxic substances they release into the air and water and onto the land.

The Bush administration insists the change will ease the financial burden on small businesses and provide regulatory relief for roughly a third of the companies that previously had been required to disclose specific quantities of chemicals they discharged. EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock proclaimed that the new rule will encourage companies to reduce chemical emissions and to increase recycling and treatment.

Such public-relations blather is intended to put a happy face on a rule change that, in the words of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., "puts the interest of corporate polluters ahead of the health and safety of the American people." The result will be a loss of transparency and accountability - and a reduction in the amount of critically important information available to state regulators, first responders, environmental groups, health researchers and the general public.

It's also unclear if the rule change will lift a significant financial burden for companies, which will still have to track emissions in order to determine if they qualify for the new reporting exemption. Nor will the EPA's rule change affect other reporting requirements. In Eugene, for example, industrial companies must report toxic release numbers to the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency and the state fire marshal. More than three dozen businesses in the city also are required to submit annual reports to the city under a municipal toxics right-to-know ordinance.

Congress created the Toxics Release Inventory in 1986 as part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The law was prompted by public concern over a 1984 toxic release from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, that caused more than 3,800 deaths and by a smaller 1985 leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Institute, West Va., that injured six workers and sent more than 100 residents to the hospital. In both cases, local communities were oblivious to the toxic chemicals being used at the plants.

Now, the EPA has diluted the TRI requirements. Previously, companies had to report detailed information whenever they released, stored or treated 500 pounds of specified chemicals. They will now be able to release up to 2,000 pounds and handle up to 5,000 pounds of those same substances without reporting any detailed information about the quantity of emissions.

Congress must now come to the defense of the public's right to know and move swiftly to reverse the EPA's rollback of of the Toxics Release Inventory.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Congress should reverse EPA rule change
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 9, 2007
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