Twelve states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, sued the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday for weakening regulations that for two decades have required businesses and industries to report the toxic chemicals they use, store and release.
The suit, filed in the Federal District Court in Manhattan, asks the court to reverse the agency's move and so restore all the chemical reporting requirements that were previously part of its Toxics Release Inventory program, or T.R.I.
Community groups across the country have used the program to track the amounts of hazardous chemicals in local neighborhoods. Under the program, companies must provide information about the types of toxic chemicals stored at plants and factories in each state, as well as the quantities discharged from each plant.
Besides the states of the New York tristate area, the plaintiffs are Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Their suit takes aim at a change, adopted by the environmental agency last December, that streamlined the T.R.I. process by reducing the amount of information that companies are required to report. The new rules allow them to file shorter, less detailed forms if they store or release less than 5,000 pounds of toxic chemicals. The old rules required a longer, more comprehensive form whenever a company stored or discharged as little as 500 pounds.
In addition to making compliance less burdensome for businesses, the agency says the new regulations provide an incentive for them to eliminate the release of the most dangerous chemicals, including those known as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic pollutants, like lead and mercury. Last December's change allows companies that handle those chemicals to use the shorter reporting form, but only if they can certify that they are not releasing them into the environment.
Molly A. O'Neill, assistant administrator for the agency's Office of Environmental Information, defended the new rules in a statement yesterday, saying they were "making a good program better."
But Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who is leading the plaintiffs, said, "The E.P.A.'s new regulations rob New Yorkers - and people across the country - of their right to know about toxic dangers in their own backyards."
Mr. Cuomo said the lawsuit sought to restore a public right to information about chemical hazards, "despite the Bush administration's best attempts to hide it."
The Toxics Release Inventory program was enacted in 1986, two years after a deadly cloud of chemical gas was accidentally released from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killing thousands. The law quickly became a kind of "community right to know" rule.
Information on the location of dangerous chemicals is posted on the environmental agency's Web site. Environmental organizations, community groups and labor unions across the country have used the inventory to prevent exposures to toxic chemicals in neighborhoods and at workplaces.
The first reporting deadline under the new rules was July 1. But officials say it is not yet clear whether individual companies have substantially reduced the amount of information they provide, or voluntarily decided to comply with the old rules.
© 2007 The New York Times