Saturday, February 10, 2007

EPA jam job

When it comes to making important information public, the Bush Administration doesn't even try. No, wait a minute -- the Bush Administration does try, but the other direction. In the case of the Toxics Release Inventory, it went out of its way to make sure the public is kept in the toxic dark,

Despite thousands of comment from people opposed, the Administration last month changed the TRI rule that regulates when companies have to give detailed information about the toxics it releases. Before the rule change, releases of 500 pounds or more of specific chemicals triggered a requirement that the companies provide detailed information about the kinds and amounts of toxics it released. The Bush-ites upped the limit to 2,000 pounds.

The old TRI didn't simply tell the public the bad things they were breathing and drinking -- it also helped emergency response providers understand the kinds of challenges they might face and should prepare for. According to the GAO's summary of its findings:

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.

What's worse, according to the report, is that the Bushies had to cheat in order to keep this crucial information from the public. According to the GAO:

Although we have not yet completed our evaluation, our preliminary observations indicate that EPA did not adhere to its own rulemaking guidelines in all respects when developing the proposal to change TRI reporting requirements. We have identified several significant differences between the guidelines and the process EPA followed. First, late in the process, senior EPA management directed the inclusion of a burden reduction option that raised the Form R reporting threshold, an option that the TRI workgroup charged with analyzing potential options, had dropped from consideration early in the process. Second, EPA developed this option on an expedited schedule that appears to have provided a limited amount of time for conducting various impact analyses. Third, the decision to expedite final agency review, when EPA’s internal and regional offices determine whether they concur with the final proposal, appears to have limited the amount of input they could provide to senior EPA management.

The full report has this specific warning:

One way to characterize the impact of the TRI reporting changes on publicly available data is in terms of information about specific chemicals at the state level. The number of chemicals for which no information is likely to be reported under the new rule ranges from 3 chemicals in South Dakota to 60 chemicals in Georgia. That means that all quantitative information currently reported about those chemicals could no longer appear in the TRI database.... Thirteen states—Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—could no longer have quantitative information for at least 20 percent of all reported chemicals in the state.

Wisconsinites -- breathe at your own risk.

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