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Published: Saturday, 12/10/2005

Keep toxic release law

ONE of the most successful anti-pollution measures in the United States over the past two decades is the Toxic Release Inventory. Congress should put a stop to a plan by the Bush Administration to substantially weaken this important public information law.

The Toxic Release Inventory is a list published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency each year detailing the amount of toxic substances dumped into the air and waterways annually by industries in communities across the country.

Under pressure from the chemical industry, the administration now wants to require reporting only every two years and raise the threshold for pollutants tenfold, from 500 pounds to 5,000 pounds.

What that means, according to the National Environmental Trust, is that 922 communities would no longer have any toxic release information. Moreover, 3,849 industrial plants out of some 24,000 would not be required to file detailed reports of the dangerous substances they release.

Types of industries that would benefit from the relaxed regulations include oil and petrochemical concerns, metal-plating plants, food processors, electronics companies, and foam manufacturers. There are dozens in the Toledo area.

The EPA's justification is that the cost of reporting is onerous to smaller polluters, who would benefit most. But that's a disingenuous argument since there isn't necessarily a correlation between the size of the industrial shops and the danger posed by what they discharge into the air or rivers and streams. In addition, many of the smaller polluters are controlled by major companies.

Nationwide, the EPA claims, industry spends $650 million a year complying with the TRI law, too great a regulatory burden. We say it's money well spent because it allows the public to know what kind of toxic hazards it faces and to lobby industry and the government to clean them up.

As Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University, told Blade Staff Writer Tom Henry for a story last month, "There's almost no law that has been more successful in reducing pollution at less cost."

Environmental experts note that the volume of the original 600 substances on the toxic release list has dropped by 60 percent over the years, as industries have been essentially shamed into curbing their output.

The EPA's public comment period on the regulation expires Jan. 13. So far, 81 environmental groups have urged Congress to pressure the EPA to retain the regulation as is.

The American people now need to weigh in so lawmakers know that the full range of information on toxic releases should remain in the public domain.

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