By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Companies will have to provide more detailed disclosure of toxic chemicals they release into the environment under a little-noticed provision in the massive spending bill President Obama signed into law yesterday.
The measure -- which affects chemical manufacturers, oil refineries, automakers and electronic manufacturers nationwide -- reverses a 2006 regulation enacted by President George W. Bush that eased the reporting requirements for nearly 600 chemicals, including arsenic, benzene and cadmium. The legislation restores the standard established by law in 1986, compelling all facilities to inform the public of any chemical releases that total 500 pounds a year or more, lowering the 2,000-pound threshold Bush had adopted.
The 2006 rule change did not lower the threshold for identifying releases of what EPA calls "persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals," but it eased rules for reporting how these chemicals are managed.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who authored the 1986 law establishing the federal Toxics Release Inventory program as well as the provision rolling back the Bush rule, said yesterday that the change will ensure that Americans are informed "about chemicals in their air and water. The Bush administration watered down this law and let facilities hide critical data about their toxic chemical emissions."
New Jersey and California, which have a high number of chemical plants, are among the states most affected by the change. Under the Bush rule, about 3,500 facilities no longer had to report detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices.
Officials from affected industries, who estimate that they spend $650 million a year complying with the current reporting requirements, said the changes the Environmental Protection Agency adopted under Bush lightened their regulatory burden without jeopardizing public health.
"Manufacturers are concerned that any rollback of EPA's reforms to the Toxics Release Inventory program will impose substantial compliance costs while gathering minimal or redundant data to inform the public of environmental risks," said Bryan Brendle, director of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers.
But environmental activists said the new rule, which went into effect immediately, is important because the registry gives companies an incentive to reduce toxic emissions and helps communities mobilize for better air, water and soil quality.
"The Bush administration was never able to offer a credible defense for reducing public information about chemical emissions," said Daniel Rosenberg, a senior attorney for the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, "and reversing this rule will allow EPA to give people information about chemicals in their neighborhoods."