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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

EPA Ignored Own Rules on Toxic Release, Watchdog Says

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not adhere to its own rulemaking guidelines in all respects when developing the proposal to change toxic chemical reporting requirements, a government watchdog finds.

U.S. industry uses billions of pounds of chemicals to produce the nation’s goods and services. Releases of these chemicals during use or disposal can harm human health and the environment.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 requires facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use more than specified amounts of nearly 650 toxic chemicals to report their releases to water, air, and land. The EPA makes this data available to the public in the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

EPA last month finalized a proposal to increase the TRI reporting threshold to 2,000 pounds, quadrupling what facilities can release before they must disclose their releases and other waste management practices.

But EPA did not adhere to its own rulemaking guidelines in all respects when developing the proposal to change TRI reporting requirements, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.

"We have identified several significant differences between the guidelines and the process EPA followed," GAO says in a new report.

Such states as California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey would lose information about toxic chemical releases in those states, GAO says. Some states could lose all quantitative information about releases of some chemicals, ranging from South Dakota to Georgia, the agency adds.

"We believe that the TRI reporting changes will likely have a significant impact on information available to the public about dozens of toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities in states and communities across the country," GAO says.

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