Friday, November 30, 2007

12 States Sue EPA Over Toxics Release Inventory Regs

Nov 28: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that New York and eleven other states are suing the U.S. EPA over new regulations which they say deny the public access to information about toxic chemicals in their communities. The other states include: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Vermont. According to a release the suit seeks to overturn the weakened reporting requirements and provide the public with the access they had in the past. The states indicated that EPA rules will allow thousands of companies to avoid disclosing information to the public about the toxic chemicals they use, store, and release into the environment by rolling back chemical reporting requirements. The suite was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Case No. 07 CV 10632).

Attorney General Cuomo said, "The EPA’s new regulations rob New Yorkers -- and people across the country -- of their right to know about toxic dangers in their own backyards. Along with eleven other states throughout the nation, we will restore the public’s right to information about chemical hazards, despite the Bush administration’s best attempts to hide it.” The changes to the reporting requirements affect the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. The TRI is the only comprehensive, publicly-available database of toxic chemical use, storage, and release in the United States. Under the TRI, companies are required to provide the EPA and the states in which the company’s facilities are located with information critical to public health and safety, and the environment. The information includes the types and amounts of toxic chemicals stored at the company’s facilities and the quantities they release into the environment.

In December 2006 [See WIMS 1/2/07], EPA issued revised regulations that the states say significantly weakened the TRI by reducing the amount of information companies must report for most of the toxic chemicals covered by the program. They said that for most toxic chemicals, the EPA’s new regulations increased by 10-fold the quantity of chemical waste a facility can generate without providing detailed TRI reports. They also said EPA also weakened TRI reporting requirements for the vast majority of the most dangerous toxic chemicals -- those that are persistent and bioaccumulative -- including chemicals such as lead and mercury. As a result, "thousands of companies can now avoid filing a complete report on harmful chemicals."

According to the release, under the former regulations, TRI information became a powerful tool used by communities to protect public health and safety, and the environment: Citizen groups used TRI data to monitor companies in their communities; State and local government entities used TRI data to track toxic chemicals; Labor organizations used TRI data to ensure the safety of their workers; Companies used the TRI program to learn of the toxic pollution they had created; this resulted in companies voluntarily reducing their toxic chemical releases by billions of pounds nationwide. "The EPA’s rollback of TRI regulations now limits the ability of labor organizations, environmental and public health advocates, community groups, and individuals to effectively monitor and respond to the presence of toxins in their communities. The EPA’s rollback particularly impacts low-income communities and communities of color, many of which are burdened with the siting of industrial facilities."

On February 6, 2007, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing on, Oversight of Recent EPA Decisions, which included the weakening the Community’s Right to Know, Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Stephen Johnson, U.S. EPA Administrator; U.S. Government Accountability Office; Chief Counsel for Advocacy for the U.S. Small Business Association; Natural Resources Defense Council; Baltimore Glassware Decorators; American Library Association; Air Lawyer with Holland and Hart; and Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco. GAO released its testimony entitled, Environmental Information: EPA Actions Could Reduce the Availability of Environmental Information to the Public (GAO-07-464T, February 6, 2007). [See the link to the eNewsUSA Blog posting below to link to the hearing website, GAO report and related information]

Access a lengthy release from Attorney General Cuomo with numerous quotes from various groups and organizations supporting the lawsuit (click here). Access the 99-page complaint filed by the 12 states (click here). Access the eNewsUSA Blog post on the Senate hearing (click here). Access EPA's TRI final "burden reduction rule" website for related background documents (click here). [*Toxics]