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New Jersey congressman proposes bill to tighten TRI reporting (2/12)

February 12, 2009
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U.S. Rep Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that will “undo EPA regulations weakening toxic reporting requirements that have been in place for nearly two decades,” according to a press statement issued by his office.

The “Toxic Right-to-Know-Protection Act” will undo changes that have “seriously undermined the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI),” according to the statement. The TRI gives communities access to an online database describing what toxic chemicals are being released from nearby plants and refineries.

In December 2006, the Bush administration's EPA announced final rules that eased reporting requirements for the TRI, according to Pallone’s office. “These rules have significantly reduced the amount of information available to the public about toxic chemicals by eliminating detailed reports from facilities that release up to 2,000 pounds of chemicals every year, and facilities that manage up to 500 pounds of chemicals known to pose some of the worst threats to human health, including lead and mercury,” said the statement.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicates that the 2006 rule will allow more than 3,500 facilities to stop reporting detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices. As a result, more than 22,000 of the nearly 90,000 TRI reports would no longer be available to hundreds of communities in states throughout the country, according to the GAO report.

Pallone’s proposed legislation codifies the more stringent reporting requirements that were in place before the Bush administration adjusted them in 2006. By codifying these requirements, future administrations would be unable to change the guidelines again without the approval of Congress, according to Pallone.

"Communities have a right to know what kinds of chemicals are being dumped in their backyards," Pallone said. "With the weakening of TRI rules under the Bush administration, communities have lost a lot of power to hold companies accountable. This legislation puts people before polluters, and once again arms communities with the information they need to protect their neighborhoods. With a new administration in place, I am optimistic that this is something we can get done this year."

Scientists have developed a large body of evidence indicating that exposure to industrial chemicals is widespread among Americans, according to Pallone’s statement. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found more than 100 chemicals present in blood and urine samples of average Americans. A National Academies of Science panel found 25 percent of developmental and neurological problems in children were due to the interplay between exposure to chemicals and genetic factors, and a three percent of the problems were due to chemical exposure alone.

The TRI program has been proven to encourage companies to voluntarily reduce their chemical releases, according to Pallone. Overall toxic releases have dropped by 59 percent since the program began in 1986, according to his statement..

The New Jersey congressman, who is serving his 11th full term in the House, was joined by 17 of his colleagues in introducing the bill. Pallone represents New Jersey’s Sixth Congressional District, which covers most of Middlesex County, as well as the Bayshore and oceanfront areas of Monmouth County, the township of Plainfield in Union County and Franklin in Somerset County.

In early February, Pallone introduced legislation in the House that would reinstate a Superfund tax “to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for the cleanup of all Superfund sites,” according to a press release from his office.

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