Despite Rhetoric, TRI Rule Good for Public Health and the Environment
February 15, 2007
Posted by Matthew_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (5:00pm ET)
On February 6, the Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing titled Oversight of Recent EPA Decisions. One rule this hearing addressed was EPA’s Final Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Burden Reduction Rule announced December 18, 2006. [ Link to final rule: http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/modrule/phase2/TRIphase2final.pdf ]
At the hearing, Senate Democrats characterized the new TRI rule as weakening the public’s right to know, eliminating disclosure requirements, and allowing facilities to hide the amounts of chemicals they may use. Yesterday, three Senate Democrats introduced legislation (S.595) to overturn the TRI rule. A similar measure was also introduced by House Democrats (HR.1055).
FACT: The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a publicly available EPA database that contains information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities reported annually by certain covered industry groups such as manufacturing, mining, utilities, hazardous waste management facilities, chemical distributors, petroleum bulk plants, and solvent recovery services.
EPA announced the final TRI burden reduction rule in December 2006 that expands eligibility to use Form A instead of the more detailed Form R for some smaller facilities’ annual reporting. The final TRI rule:
*Allows facilities to report using the new Form A that emit non-persistent, bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs) in quantities of up to 2,000 lbs., as long as the total waste management by recycling or disposal does not exceed 5,000 lbs.
*Allows facilities to report using the new Form A that emit PBTs only if they report zero total releases, on or off-site, and the total waste management by recycling or disposal does not to exceed 500 lbs.
*Eases regulatory burden on smaller facilities. The new Form A is easier to fill out, includes more chemicals on one form, and requests ranges of chemical amounts for smaller facilities.
Good for Small Business:
Tom Sullivan, Chief Counsel for the Office of Advocacy at the U.S. Small Business Association testified at the February 6 hearing, "[S]mall businesses are disproportionately impacted by regulation. The overall regulatory burden in the United States exceeds $1.1 trillion. For firms employing fewer than 20 employees, the most recent estimate of their regulatory burden is $7,647 per year per employee." [Link to SBA commissioned report: http://www.sba.gov/advo/research/rs264tot.pdf ]
An SBA Office of Advocacy contracted report released in 2004 revealed that businesses incur costs of $300 million annually for compliance with the TRI program.
The new TRI rule attempts to relieve some of those costs on smaller reporting facilities and retain the integrity and public accessibility to information in the TRI program.
Based on studies commissioned by the SBA Office of Advocacy, the increased reporting threshold in the new TRI rule involves very little change in the potential risk associated with releases that are being reported on the more detailed TRI Form Rs. In fact, these studies report that for 99% of all the nation’s 3,142 counties, the changes in reported risk are not significant. [Link to entire SBA work on TRI: http://www.sba.gov/advo/laws/comments/tri06.html]
Good for the Environment:
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson testified at the February 6 hearing, "As successful as the program has been, we have been challenged by the fact that, at a national level, reductions in TRI releases have plateaued. So we have asked ourselves: How do we encourage zero releases and better waste management practices?"
The new TRI rule does not exempt any facility from reporting its releases, nor does it remove any chemicals from the TRI. Under the new Form A, covered facilities provide a report to the public that total releases from a facility are in a range from zero to 2,000 pounds. Facilities that have any emissions or discharges of highly toxic materials (PBTs) still cannot use Form A in annual reporting.
Most importantly, however, the new TRI rule provides incentives for facilities to improve environmental performance through reducing emissions, reducing or eliminating releases, and managing remaining wastes using preferred methods such as recycling and treatment. It only makes sense to reward facilities that have worked to lower their emissions and releases to zero and enhanced their waste management with more efficient reporting and less burdensome reporting costs.
Some Senate Democrats have argued that the new TRI rule keeps necessary information from first responders. However, first responders rely on chemical inventory data that is required under Section 312 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). The new TRI rule does not affect chemical inventory data.
As one member of the Committee succinctly stated at the February 6 hearing, "They [the Democrat Majority] want to debate whether the EPA should require that respondents file Form A in lieu of Form R to the TRI program. I mean, are you kidding? We are focusing on the wrong things."
Perhaps it couldn’t have been better said.