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Web Date: February 8, 2007

Congressional Investigation Rips New EPA Rule

Industry saves a little, public loses a lot on data filing change, GAO says
Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE

A new EPA rule will provide modest savings to many companies, but the public will lose a substantial amount of information on the chemical releases, the Government Accountability Office reported on Feb. 6.

Under the rule, about one-third of the 24,000 facilities that file Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reports are now eligible to submit less information about one or more chemicals. EPA finalized the rule in late December 2006 (C&EN, Jan. 1, page 10).

The changes allow more facilities to use a short form rather than a long form for filing their annual TRI reports to EPA. In the past, a facility could report via the short form if it released or disposed of less than 500 lb per year of a substance listed on TRI. Under the new rule, a facility has to use the more detailed, long reporting form only if it annually releases or disposes of more than 2,000 lb of a listed chemical.

GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said these changes "will likely have a significant impact on information available to the public about dozens of toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities in states and communities across the country."

According to EPA estimates, the new rule will save industry $5.9 million per year. GAO said this works out to less than $900 per facility, or about 4% of the total annual cost of all TRI reporting. However, because some facilities now eligible to file the short form will probably continue using the long form, "actual savings to industry are likely to be less," GAO said.

GAO also criticized EPA's portrayal of the new rule as a way to reduce pollution. Marcus C. Peacock, EPA's deputy administrator, has said the rule would encourage firms to reduce their TRI releases so they can file the short form. This argument, GAO said, is "quite misleading," and contrary to Congress' intentions about TRI and principles of the public's right to know about chemicals.

John B. Stephenson, director of natural resources and environment at GAO, presented these findings at a hearing held by the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee on Feb. 7. He said GAO plans to finalize the information in a report later this year.

At the hearing, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said he planned to introduce legislation that would set the old reporting thresholds into law, overriding EPA's new rule.

The GAO findings (GAO-07-464T) are available at www.gao.gov/new.items/d07464t.pdf.

 
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