U.S. Rep Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, yesterday introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that will undo U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations weakening toxic reporting requirements that have been in place for nearly two decades.
The Toxic Right-to-Know-Protection Act will undo changes that have seriously undermined the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a critical tool that has given communities access to an online database describing what toxic chemicals are being released from nearby plants and refineries. The TRI program has been extremely successful in empowering communities by ensuring that they know what chemicals and how much of these harmful chemicals are being released into the air, water and ground.
In December 2006, the Bush administration's EPA announced final rules that loosened reporting requirements for the TRI. These rules have significantly reduced the amount of information available to the public about toxic chemicals by eliminating detailed reports from facilities that release up to 2,000 pounds of chemicals every year, and facilities that manage up to 500 pounds of chemicals known to pose some of the worst threats to human health, including lead and mercury.
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicates that the 2006 rule will allow more than 3,500 facilities to stop reporting detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices. As a result, more than 22,000 of the nearly 90,000 TRI reports would no longer be available to hundreds of communities in states throughout the country.
The legislation codifies the stronger reporting requirements that were in place before the Bush administration weakened them in 2006. By codifying these requirements, future administrations would be unable to change the guidelines again without the approval of Congress.
"Communities have a right to know what kinds of chemicals are being dumped in their backyards," Pallone said. "With the weakening of TRI rules under the Bush administration, communities have lost a lot of power to hold companies accountable. This legislation puts people before polluters, and once again arms communities with the information they need to protect their neighborhoods. With a new administration in place, I am optimistic that this is something we can get done this year."
Scientists have developed a large body of evidence indicating that exposure to industrial chemicals is widespread among Americans. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found over 100 chemicals present in blood and urine samples of average Americans. Furthermore, a National Academies of Science panel found that 25 percent of developmental and neurological problems in children were due to the interplay between exposure to chemicals and genetic factors, and a full 3 percent of the problems were due to chemical exposure alone.
In addition, the TRI program has been proven to encourage companies to voluntarily reduce their chemical releases. Overall toxic releases have dropped by 59 percent since the program began in 1986.
The New Jersey congressman was joined by 17 of his colleagues in introducing this legislation.