Lautenberg, Boxer: GAO Report Criticizes Bush Administration's Weakening of Public's Right To Know About Release of Toxic Chemicals in Communities
Senators say Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act must become law to ensure public is protected
December 13, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today said a new General Accountability Office (GAO) report shows how the Bush administration has worked to undermine the Public Right-to-Know law that informs people about the release of toxic chemicals in their communities. Sens. Lautenberg and Boxer said the GAO report demonstrates the need for Congress to approve legislation to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rules weakening toxic reporting requirements that had been in place for nearly two decades.

"People who live near chemical facilities have a right to know about the potential poisons released into their air and water. Unfortunately, this report makes clear the Bush Administration is putting politics ahead of science and letting facilities hide critical data about toxic chemicals. This disturbing report shows the Administration pushed to weaken the public's right to know about the release of dozens of toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities nationwide. It is time to overturn this rule and restore the public's right to know about the release of toxic chemicals in their communities," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who authored the legislation that created the 1986 Right-to-Know program.

Senator Boxer said: "The public has a right to know about toxic pollution in local communities. The Bush administration's EPA has rolled back that right for special interests at the public's expense. GAO's report confirms the serious flaws in EPA's process and emboldens me to press ahead to restore the public's right to know and move forward on Senator Lautenberg's legislation."

At the request of Sens. Boxer, Lautenberg and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the GAO prepared a written report on the EPA's December 2006 rulemaking under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. TRI is the preeminent federal public right-to-know program for toxic chemicals. Health officials, federal, state and local governments, business, and the public use TRI to reduce chemical threats to public health.

The GAO concluded that:

· The rule could significantly reduce environmental information "on dozens of toxic chemicals released from thousands of facilities across the country."
· EPA's rule would allow more than 3,500 facilities to no longer report detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices.
· EPA "did not follow key steps in agency guidelines designed to ensure that it conducts appropriate scientific, economic, and policy analysis."
· "[S]enior EPA management directed inclusion of a burden reduction option...in response to direction from OMB" and issued the rule to meet a burden reduction commitment to OMB.
· EPA's burden reduction estimates used "outdated data" and are "likely [25%] overstated."
· EPA issued the rule despite "over 100,000 comments...the vast majority expressed opposition to EPA's proposed changes, whereas about 30 commenters expressed support."

The Right-to-Know law creating TRI was authored by Sen. Lautenberg and passed into law in 1986 as part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The law came in the wake of the tragic disaster at a Union Carbide facility in Bhopal, India, which killed thousands of people. Congress passed the law to ensure that communities know how much of a variety of dangerous industrial chemicals are released into the air, water and the ground.

In December 2006, the EPA announced final rules that weakened reporting requirements for the TRI. With these rules, the Bush administration has undermined this critical program by: eliminating detailed reports from thousands of facilities nationwide that release up to 2,000 pounds of chemicals every year; and eliminated detailed reporting requirements for facilities that manage up to 500 pounds of chemicals known to pose some of the worst threats to human health, including lead and mercury.

Sen. Lautenberg's new legislation, the Toxic Right-to-Know-Protection Act, reinstates the stronger reporting requirements that were in place before the Bush administration weakened them late last year. Sen. Boxer is an original co-sponsor of the Lautenberg bill.

The Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Boxer.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is an original cosponsor of the Lautenberg bill. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06) and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA-32) have introduced the companion version of the bill in the House of Representatives.

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