Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Your right to know is being poisoned to death

It is probably in your best interest to know what and how much toxic crap is being spewed into the air by local industry, but tough luck: the Bush administration has decided it is in the best interest of corporations for you not to know. It is changing the rules for the Toxic Release Inventory to allow companies to do less reporting. According to the Christian Science Monitor:

Under current TRI rules, companies have to report emissions of any toxic chemical that exceed 500 pounds in a year. Under the new rules, facilities could fill out a simpler form that omits reporting the amount of toxic chemicals if they created less than 5,000 pounds of it in a year and released no more than 2,000 pounds of it into the environment.

The rule change is supposed to benefit small businesses. The BizTimes Daily, for example, reports that

Under the previous rules, a neighborhood auto-repair shop was required to fill out the same set of forms as a large oil refinery, the NFIB said. A 2005 Small Business Administration (SBA) report found that the smallest firms pay nearly 1.5 times as much per employee as large firms to comply with federal regulations.
rule change is supposed to benefit small businesses.

The rules, though, will help huge corporations hide the damage they are doing to the creatures who are unfortunate enough to be required to breathe. The Christian Science Monitor again:

But one largely hidden element of the rule change is that big companies are among the largest beneficiaries, says Tom Natan, of the National Environmental Trust, a Washington environmental group.

"The idea that this change is meant to benefit small independent business is just not true," he says. "When they first issued the proposal last year, EPA was saying it's mom and pop businesses this will help, but it turns out it's really General Motors, Sunoco, and companies like that."

While thousands of facilities will see major reductions in their paperwork, Dr. Natan is most concerned about the 3,600 facilities, about 15 percent of the total, that his analysis shows will no longer have to report any emissions details at all. Many such facilities, which emit thousands of pounds of toxins, are operated by some of the nation's largest companies.

An Ashland Distribution Co. facility, located in Birmingham, Ala., a division of the Fortune 500 giant Ashland Inc., released seven toxic chemicals totaling 4,405 pounds in 2004, according to the most recent TRI data. But because each chemical is below the new 2,000-pound threshold, the facility may no longer have to report any data on amounts and types of releases, Natan says. It also leaves room for emissions to rise without data being made public, he adds.

This rule change may lead to a fight with the new Democratically-controlled Congress. Let's hope so.

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