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Maine Sues EPA for Denying the Public Access to Information on Toxic Chemicals
November 28, 2007
Maine, along with a coalition of eleven other states, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over new regulations denying the public access to information about toxic chemicals in their communities.
The EPA will allow thousands of companies to avoid disclosing information to the public about the toxic chemicals they use, store, and release into the environment by rolling back chemical reporting requirements. The suit seeks to overturn the weakened reporting requirements and provide the public with the access they had in the past.
“The EPA’s rollback of toxic chemical reporting requirements poses a threat to human health and our physical environment.” Rowe said. “This lawsuit seeks to protect public access to information about toxic chemicals that pose a threat to our health.”
The changes to the reporting requirements affect the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. The TRI is the most widely used, comprehensive, publicly-available database of toxic chemical use, storage, and release in the United States. Under the TRI, companies are required to provide the EPA and the states in which the company’s facilities are located with information critical to public health and safety, and the environment. This information includes the types and amounts of toxic chemicals stored at the company’s facilities and the quantities they release into the environment.
In December 2006, the EPA issued revised regulations that significantly weakened the TRI by reducing the amount of information companies must report for most of the toxic chemicals covered by the program. For most toxic chemicals, the EPA’s new regulations increased by 10-fold the quantity of chemical waste a facility can generate without providing detailed TRI reports. The EPA also weakened TRI reporting requirements for the vast majority of the most dangerous toxic chemicals – those that are persistent and bioaccumulative – including chemicals such as lead and mercury. As a result, thousands of companies can now avoid filing a complete report on harmful chemicals.
“The result the EPA’s action is simple. Entities will now be permitted to use large amounts of toxic chemicals without reporting such use.” Rowe added “For the safety of human health and our environment, it is important that the EPA’s reporting requirements remain comprehensive.”
Under the former regulations, TRI information became a powerful tool used by communities to protect public health and safety, and the environment:
- Citizen groups used TRI data to monitor companies in their communities;
- State and local government entities used TRI data to track toxic chemicals;
- Labor organizations used TRI data to ensure the safety of their workers;
- Companies used the TRI program to learn of the toxic pollution they had created; this resulted in companies voluntarily reducing their toxic chemical releases by billions of pounds nationwide.
The EPA’s rollback of TRI regulations now limits the ability of labor organizations, environmental and public health advocates, community groups, and individuals to effectively monitor and respond to the presence of toxins in their communities.
The legal action brought by the twelve states seeks to invalidate the EPA’s revised TRI regulations and return to the former reporting requirements, so that public access to environmental information is not restricted. The lawsuit was filed today in federal court in Manhattan.
Congress enacted, and President Ronald Reagan signed into law, the Toxics Release Inventory program in 1986, after the Bhopal toxic chemical catastrophe in India. In 1984, a deadly cloud of methyl isocyanate accidentally released from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India killed or seriously injured more than 2,000 people. Shortly thereafter, a serious chemical release occurred at a sister plant in West Virginia.
The states or state agencies involved in the suit are: Arizona; California; Connecticut; Illinois; Maine; Massachusetts; the Minnesota; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; and Vermont.
Jerry Reid, Assistant Attorney General, (207) 626-8545