Critics call EPA's new rule a loophole for big business
A new reporting rule, aimed to ease the burden on small firms, may instead help Ashland and other giant companies.
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Of 24,000 facilities currently reporting TRI data, about one-third could be eligible to fill out a short form that simply lists the chemical, they said.Skip to next paragraph
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But one largely hidden element of the rule change is that big companies are among the largest beneficiaries, says Tom Natan, of the National Environmental Trust, a Washington environmental group.
"The idea that this change is meant to benefit small independent business is just not true," he says. "When they first issued the proposal last year, EPA was saying it's mom and pop businesses this will help, but it turns out it's really General Motors, Sunoco, and companies like that."
While thousands of facilities will see major reductions in their paperwork, Dr. Natan is most concerned about the 3,600 facilities, about 15 percent of the total, that his analysis shows will no longer have to report any emissions details at all. Many such facilities, which emit thousands of pounds of toxins, are operated by some of the nation's largest companies.
An Ashland Distribution Co. facility, located in Birmingham, Ala., a division of the Fortune 500 giant Ashland Inc., released seven toxic chemicals totaling 4,405 pounds in 2004, according to the most recent TRI data. But because each chemical is below the new 2,000-pound threshold, the facility may no longer have to report any data on amounts and types of releases, Natan says. It also leaves room for emissions to rise without data being made public, he adds.
Similarly, one of Chevron's Honolulu marine terminals emitted 1,328 pounds of seven chemicals in 2004, including 580 pounds of the n-hexane, a potent toxin. But under the new TRI, that facility won't have to report such details in the future.
Both companies are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"We're going to look at this change, but in the meantime continue to remain compliant with all federal regulations," says Ken Gordon, an Ashland spokesman. "It may help us a little bit to fill out the shorter form – save us some time – and that's what EPA had in mind. It wants companies to save time and still be protective of public health. The public is still getting their right to know what chemicals are being used."
"Right now we file the long form and it is our intent to continue that practice until the new TRI proposals are fully vetted," says Albert Chee, a Chevron spokesman. "If there's some reason to change our reporting practices, then changes will be made. But right now, we'll continue to follow our historical practice."
EPA found broad public discontent after it proposed its rule. More than 99 percent of the roughly 120,000 respondents during the public comment period opposed it, according to OMB Watch, a budget watchdog in Washington, D.C.
"It's outrageous that you want to make it easier for businesses to avoid public scrutiny of their releases," Carolyn Boatsman of Mercer Island, Wash., wrote the EPA in 2005. "It has been unequivocally documented that having to publish releases has shamed businesses into drastically reducing their output. We need that motivation."