EPA Would Ease Pollution Reporting Rules


By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer
Wed Dec 14, 3:36 AM ET

WASHINGTON - If the Bush administration has its way, some factories won't have to report all the pollution spewed from their smokestacks, making it harder for government scientists to calculate the health risks of the air Americans breathe.

The Environmental Protection Agency, responding to an AP analysis that found broad inequities in the racial and economic status of those who breathe the nation's most unhealthy air, says total annual emissions of 188 regulated air toxins have declined 36 percent in the past 15 years.

But the EPA wants to ease some of the Clean Air Act regulations that have contributed to those results and proposes to exempt some companies from having to tell the government about what it considers to be small releases of toxic pollutants. The EPA also plans to ask Congress for permission to require the accounting every other year instead of annually.

The agency said in September it wants to reduce its "regulatory burden" on companies by allowing some to use a "short form" when they report their pollution to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory.

The inventory program began under a 1986 community right-to-know law. If Congress agrees, the first year the changes could be possible would be 2008.

Those changes would exempt companies from disclosing their toxic pollution if they claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical — the current limit is 500 pounds — or if they store it onsite but claim to release "zero" amounts of the worst pollutants. Those include mercury, DDT, PCBs and other chemicals that persist in the environment and work up the food chain. However, companies must report any storage of dioxin or dioxin-like compounds, even if none are released.

EPA officials say communities will still know about the types of toxic releases, but not some of the details about how each chemical was managed or released. Critics say it will reduce the information the public has on more than 600 chemicals put in the air, water and land, making it harder for officials, communities and interest groups to help protect public health.