Proposed Bush Administration Toxics Rule Lets Polluters Off the Hook

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Texas Would Lose Pollution Data from 217 Chemical Facilities

Environment Texas

As the new home of TexPIRG’s environmental work, Environment Texas can be contacted with any questions regarding this news release.

MCALLEN—A new TexPIRG analysis of a proposed Bush administration rule reveals that residents of Texas would lose valuable information about the amounts and type of harmful chemicals discharged by industrial facilities in their neighborhoods if the rule is finalized.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson proposed changes to the Toxics Release Inventory Program (TRI) in October 2005 that would significantly decrease the information that the public and state and local officials have about harmful chemicals released into Texas’ water, air, and land.

“On the anniversary of the deadliest chemical accident in history in Bhopal, India, Administrator Johnson wants to help corporate polluters hide toxic pollution,” stated TexPIRG Advocate Metzger. “The Bush Administration’s proposal puts corporations first and communities last.”

In Texas, the local impact could be widespread. Analysis of the 2003 Toxics Release Inventory by Grassroots Connections and the National Environmental Trust showed that:

• 217 would no longer be required to report toxic chemical releases to the public;
• Texas would lose all information about releases, transfers, and disposal of selenium, which is a suspected carcinogen.
• Many communities in Texas will be severely affected. Communities in 56 zip codes will lose all the pollution information about chemical releases in their neighborhoods.

In October 2005, EPA Administrator Johnson proposed to cut the amount of pollution information that companies are required to disclose. These changes to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) would be three-fold:

• A rule to propose that companies be allowed to release ten times as much pollution before they are required to report their releases;
• A rule that would allow companies to withhold information about some of the most dangerous chemicals, such as lead and mercury;
• A notification to Congress that Administrator Johnson intends to release a rule next fall to change the frequency of reporting to the program from every year to every other year.

The TRI program is a pollution disclosure program. Since 1987, companies have been required to report toxic releases to air, land, and water, as well as toxic waste that is treated, burned, recycled, or disposed of. Approximately 26,000 industrial facilities report information about any of the 650 chemicals in the program.

The TRI program was established in 1986, following a devastating chemical accident in Bhopal, India. December 4th marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of this accident, where thousands of people immediately lost their lives from exposure to chemicals, and tens of thousands have since died from continued contamination. Soon thereafter, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, which established the Toxics Release Inventory.

The Toxics Release Inventory has been credited with a wide range of successes. Since the TRI program began, disposals or releases of the original 299 chemicals tracked have dropped nearly 60 percent. A TexPIRG Education Fund analysis showed that releases of chemicals linked to health effects have decreased as well. Between 1995 and 2000, releases to air and water of chemicals known to cause cancer declined by 41 percent.

EPA’s own research has shown that the public, companies, governments, academics, and investment groups have all used the TRI program. A May 2003 report by EPA highlighted a number of Texas community groups and academics have used the TRI. Community Members of Mansfield, Texas used TRI data to negotiate permission to have its own experts perform regular environmental and safety audits of a local Rhone-Poulenc chemical plant. The Texas Network for Environmental and Economic Justice published Toxics in Texas and Their Impact on Communities of Color. The network used TRI and other data to document disproportionate environmental impacts on racial and ethnic minority communities in Texas. Texas A&M used TRI and RCRA data in a study of 58 landfills. The study determined that of 143 toxic chemicals found, 60 occurred in municipal waste samples, 31 in industrial waste landfills, and 39 in both.

The proposed changes also undercut efforts to push the Mexican government and its manufacturing industry toward full disclosure of its own recently enacted Pollutant Release and Transfer Registry, developed in part through the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation. U.S. government and non-governmental organizations have been able to hold up the TRI as a successful example of a system that has worked to the benefit of industry and the public alike, in large part because of its requirements to include information about dangerous chemicals and require disclosure even for relatively small releases.

“In 2005, the public and governments were able to get information about basic criteria air pollutant releases from industry and electric utilities required under Mexico’s PRTR, as reported in the CEC’s annual Taking Stock report, and by next year, information submitted by Mexican facilities on 103 toxic chemicals and compounds releases and transfers should also become available to the public,” noted Cyrus Reed of the Texas Center for Policy Studies. “However, backtracking on reporting requirements in the U.S might lead Mexican industry and its government to reexamine these recently enacted commitments toward greater transparency.”

“The TRI program has proved that requiring polluters to report their pollution creates an incentive for these facilities to reduce their pollution,” said Metzger. “But the Bush administration wants to take this spotlight off polluters and leave the public and our communities in the dark about pollution in our state.”