Activists balk at EPA plans to streamline pollution reporting

American activists are engaged in a last-ditch battle to persuade the Environment Protection Agency to scrap plans to relax obligations on companies to publish details of pollution they produce.

Last September the EPA announced its intention to revisit regulations on pollution reporting and streamline the national Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a publicly accessible database listing industry emissions.

According to the EPA the plan is designed to lift the administrative burden on both industry and the agency itself and would save 165,000 hours per year, the equivalent of 90 full time jobs, while still ensuring that 99% of toxic emissions and waste consignments were reported.

For workers on the ground, the changes would simply mean a shorter form to fill in and process.

"Since TRI began in 1986, EPA has learned a great deal about the power that public information has to influence corporate behaviour and empower communities, and we also have found new ways to use technology to reduce costs for everyone involved, improve data quality and speed the release of the information collected," said Kimberly Nelson, chief information officer for the EPA.

"This proposal would provide burden reduction for approximately a third of TRI reporters while still requiring facilities to report on all chemicals that they report on today."

The agency maintains it remains committed to an open process and argues the new-look TRI would save the taxpayer and industry money while still protecting the environment and public.

But critics of the proposed revision believe it panders to industry lobby groups while blunting a useful tool which allows the American people to scrutinise corporate activity.

They are, in effect, arguing that taking the teeth out of the TRI is equivalent to Gordon Brown's decision to scrap the Operating and Financial Review.

Self-appointed public guardian OMB Watch, which describes itself as a nonprofit research and advocacy organisation dedicated to promoting government accountability, is among those fighting the proposal and has been urging supporters to make their views know to the EPA before the public consultation closes this Friday.

OMB says the effects of the proposals will go far deeper than the EPA suggests and what the agency is trying to sell as an administrative restructuring will have a profound impact.

If they go through, the proposals will require companies to report once every two years, rather than annually, and relatively small-scale pollution producers will find themselves off the hook as the lower limit at which detailed reporting will be required will be increased tenfold.

Most worrying, says OMB, is the possible exemption of low levels of persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) such as lead and mercury which have proven dangerous in even the smallest doses.

By Sam Bond


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