MAC: Mines and Communities

Pennsylvania Governor Opposes Curb on Access to Toxic Release Data

Published by MAC on 2006-01-18

Pennsylvania Governor Opposes Curb on Access to Toxic Release Data

by HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania

18th January 2006

Pennsylvania is opposing proposed federal regulations that would limit public access to information about the chemicals companies legally release into the air, Governor Edward Rendell said Friday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to raise the threshold for reporting the release of certain chemicals in the Toxic Release Inventory from 500 pounds to 5,000 pounds, and change the reporting requirements to every other year instead of yearly, weakening a tool that empowers residents to fully assess the health of their communities.

"The federal Toxic Release Inventory has been tremendously successful at using the influence of public information to encourage facilities to reduce their emissions," said Governor Rendell, a Democrat.

"The inventory puts information about chemical releases in a community at the fingertips of residents and holds companies accountable to their neighbours. Rolling back reporting requirements and exempting more chemicals from the requirements is a mistake."

The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), created by Congress in 1986, is available on the EPA's website. With a few keystrokes, residents are able to gather information about the character of certain chemicals and dispersion of toxic substances from specific manufacturing plants both nationally and locally.

Companies currently report releases by July 1 each year, although there is a delay of about 18 months between the end of a reporting year and public availability of the data.

For several years, the EPA has solicited ideas from state and local air agencies on means to reduce that delay. But now the federal agency is proposing reporting biennially instead of annually, not only adding to delays but cutting in half the amount of new information available to the public each year.

EPA recently enhanced its online database, giving stakeholders more direct access to information. EPA now is attempting to justify curtailment of TRI by stating, "citizens will benefit from the redirection of federal and state taxpayer dollars to improve the quality, clarity usefulness and accessibility of TRI information products and services."

In reality, Rendell said, the initiative will reduce the amount of important information available and double the amount of time between reports by reducing reporting frequency to every other year.

"As we move forward to address the serious health threat that mercury poses, it is critical that this information remain available," said state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty. "The proposed rule would clearly be a step in the wrong direction."

Raising the threshold for reporting the release of certain chemicals would result in a loss of information, says McGinty. Only five of Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants would need to report their mercury and mercury compound emissions under the proposed changes. Thirty-four currently report those emissions.

For the 2003 calendar year, the owners and operators of 109 facilities located in Pennsylvania reported TRI data on mercury and mercury compounds. If the final rule raises the eligibility threshold, TRI reporting may only apply to 10 of those facilities.

For more information about the Toxic Release Inventory, log on to:

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