WASHINGTON - December 14 - The American public is overwhelmingly opposed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plans to cut back toxic chemical reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), according to a report released today. OMB Watch produced the report, titled “Against the Public’s Will,” and documented opposition from 23 state governments and more than 120,000 average citizens, 60 members of Congress, 30 public health organizations, 40 labor organizations and 200 environmental and public interest organizations. EPA's proposals would relax reporting requirements in order to reduce a perceived paperwork burden for companies that release and dispose of toxic chemicals.
"This is a clear case of the agency disregarding the will of the American people," said Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy for OMB Watch. "The EPA has no scientific or health data supporting the changes they want to make – nothing to assure the public will still be safe. Instead, the agency is just interested in saving polluting companies a few dollars, at the possible expense of public health."
"Today’s report underscores the depth and breadth of opposition to the Bush Administration’s proposals to gut the TRI program,” stated Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “I hope the EPA will make the right choice and abandon the rest of its ill-advised proposal. However, if they go forward, I will work with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to reverse that decision."
According to OMB Watch’s analysis, EPA received comments from 122,420 individuals and groups. The vast majority of those commenting, 122,386 (99.97%), strongly opposed the changes, while only 34 commenters (0.03%) expressed some degree of support for the proposals. This support came almost entirely from companies and industry associations, with a few government agencies and individuals voicing partial support.
"The weakening of TRI reporting requirements provides yet another example of EPA’s attempts to curtail public access to environmental information,” said U.S. PIRG Staff Attorney Alex Fidis. “In this case, EPA wants to help hide toxic pollution rather than being upfront with the American public. The overwhelming repudiation of EPA’s proposal is an unmistakable sign that no one is fooled by what the agency is trying to do here."
Comments opposing the changes cited concerns about threats to public health and the environment from increased, unmonitored pollution; the reduced ability of government agencies to make sound decisions on toxic pollution; and the lack of burden reduction that will result from the changes. For example, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality argued that if the changes go into effect, the department "would no longer be able to track potential hot spots without the amount and location of [toxins] released in Oklahoma."
According to the report, EPA has received additional strong criticism and resistance to the proposed changes to TRI reporting. In the months following the close of the public docket:
The House of Representatives passed a resolution preventing the EPA from implementing the rule changes;
Sens. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) placed a hold on a Bush administration nominee to protest the proposals;
EPA’s Science Advisory Board formally, in a letter offering the agency unsolicited advice, opposed the proposals; and
The Environmental Council of States passed a resolution urging EPA to withdraw them.
In response to criticism of its plans, EPA recently announced that it would not seek to change annual TRI reporting to every other year. However, by the end of December, the agency is expected to issue a final rule significantly raising the TRI reporting thresholds.
"Americans who live near industrial facilities want to know what's going into their air and water," Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) said. "This report shows that the public supports the original intent of the TRI program – to give communities the right to know what kinds of toxic chemicals are being dumped in their backyards. If EPA does not heed the overwhelming majority of comments and finalizes its proposal, we will take every step necessary to stop it in Congress."
The report is available at http://www.ombwatch.org/info/TRICommentsReport.pdf.
A statement on the report from Sen. Lautenberg is available at http://www.ombwatch.org/info/LautenbergStatement.pdf.
A statement on the report from Reps. Pallone and Hilda Solis (D-CA) is available at http://www.ombwatch.org/info/Pallone_Solis_Statement.pdf.