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SPJ Supports S. 595, the Toxic Right -to-Know Protection Act
On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write to urge you to support the Toxic Right-to-Know Protection Act (S. 595), which we understand will soon be considered by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This legislation would reverse a recent EPA rule change to the federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) that restricted the public’s right-to-know about harmful chemicals released from thousands of facilities in states and communities across the country.
The TRI program is simple in application but profound in effect. Industrial facilities that use certain toxic chemicals in amounts that exceed established reporting thresholds must file annual release reports, which are subsequently compiled and posted on EPA’s website for public review. Small businesses under ten full-time employees and certain industry sectors are exempted from TRI reporting requirements.
Although the TRI program does not mandate toxic reductions, the process of public disclosure is a powerful incentive to voluntarily decrease toxic releases. In fact, releases of TRI toxic chemicals that have been continuously reported since 1988 have decreased by 58%. In addition to promoting toxic reductions, the TRI is an essential tool that alerts workers, first responders, public health officials and communities to the presence of harmful chemicals.
After more than two decades of success, EPA’s new rule is a serious setback for the TRI program. The rule limits available toxic release and other waste management data by adding a loophole that allows facilities to withhold previously reported information from governmental and public review. A recent GAO assessment determined that these changes will have a significant impact on information available to the public, including more than 3,500 facilities across the country that would no longer need to report quantitative data to the TRI program. The GAO also found that EPA violated its own rulemaking procedures and noted several problems with EPA's analysis justifying the changes.
EPA’s action to limit the public’s right-to-know was overwhelming opposed by more than 120,000 citizens, 113 government agencies and officials representing 23 states, and hundreds of organizations representing labor, public health, environmental, investor and faith-based interests. The changes were also opposed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Environmental Council of States. Even EPA’s own Science Advisory Board expressed concern that the "changes may hinter the advances of environmental research to protect public health and the environment."  In May 2006, the House of Representatives voted to block EPA from finalizing the rule. 
The TRI is a critical public health and informational tool that provides a powerful incentive for voluntary toxic reductions, and arms the public, emergency responders and governments with the information necessary to protect communities from dangerous chemicals. We urge you to vote in favor of S. 595 to restore public access to the toxic release information eliminated by EPA’s recent rule.
[200+ environmental, labor, health, and public interest
1. 71 Fed. Reg. 76,932 et seq. (Dec. 22, 2006)
2. 42 U.S.C. § 11023(b)(1)
3. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 2005 TRI Public Data Release Brochure. Retrieved May 22, 2007, from http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri05/brochure/brochure.htm .
4. EPA Actions Could Reduce the Availability of Environmental Information to the Public: Hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, 110th Cong., 1st Sess. (Feb. 6, 2007) (testimony of John B. Stephenson).
5. Against the Public’s Will, OMB Watch (December 2006). Retrieved May 22, 2007, from http://www.ombwatch.org/info/TRICommentsReport.pdf.
6. Envtl. Prot. Agency Science Advisory Board, Letter to EPA Administrator Steven Johnson (July 12, 2006) (EPA-SAB-06-001). Retrieved May 22, 2007 from http://www.epa.gov/science1/pdf/sab-com-06-001.pdf.
7. 109th Cong., 2nd Sess., roll call no. 165 (May 18, 2006)