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Angela Logomasini - Toxics Release Inventory

Angela Logomasini - Toxics Release Inventory

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Published by: Competitive Enterprise Institute on Dec 07, 2010
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202-331-1010 www.cei.org Competitive Enterprise Institute
Several states and the federal governmenthave in place various “right-to-know” laws.Based on the idea that the public has a rightto know about chemical risks they face, theseprograms require that private sector entitiesreport chemicals that they release, use, and sell.Some environmentalists suggest that support-ing these regulations gives the public enoughinformation to demand lower-risk facilitiesthat pollute less. Although these laws seemstraightforward and reasonable, an analysisof one key federal program—the Toxics Re-lease Inventory (TRI)—demonstrates seriousflaws.
Statutory Scheme
TRI requires that firms
that have 10 ormore employees and annually manufacture orprocess more than 25,000 pounds (or otherwiseuse 10,000 pounds) of a TRI-listed chemical
 report the release or transfer of such chemicals.The law currently covers about 650 chemicals,and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) has the authority to add and delete chemi-cals. Releases include emissions, discharges intobodies of water, releases to land, materials recy-cled, and disposals into underground injectionwells. Transfers include movement of chemicals
1. For a list of regulated industries, see http://www.epa.gov/tri/report/siccode.htm.2. For the lists of chemicals regulated under TRI, seehttp://www.epa.gov/tri/chemical/index.htm.
Toxics Release Inventory
 Angela Logomasini
The Environmental SourceCompetitive Enterprise Institute www.cei.org 202-331-1010
off site for recycling, incineration, treatment(such as in a water treatment facility), or land-fill disposal.
Regulatory and Legislative Activity
In October 2005, EPA proposed a couple of rules to reform the TRI and to reduce its regula-tory burden. One proposal would change thefrequency of TRI reporting, possibility shiftingto biannual rather than annual reporting.
An-other would allow more firms to report on ashorter form than under existing regulations.
 Currently, the EPA allows expedited reportingon what it calls “Form A” for firms that handlefewer than 500 pounds of TRI-listed chemicals.The goal is to reduce the regulatory burden forfirms that “release” low levels of TRI chemi-cals. The EPA proposed allowing all firms thatproduce fewer than 5,000 pounds to use FormA, hoping to lift the TRI regulatory burden formore firms. According to the EPA, this changewould save firms 165,000 hours of paperworkpreparation time and still ensure that 99 per-cent of TRI releases would be reported on thelonger form.
These changes were designed to savefirms—mostly small businesses—time andmoney without significantly changing the qual-ity of data collected under TRI. EPA finalizedthe rule in December 2006, allowing firms toapply it to their emission reports covering that
Federal Register
70, no. 191 (October 4, 2005):57871–72.4.
 Federal Register 
70, no. 191 (October 4, 2005):57822–47.
5. EPA, “Toxic Release Inventory Burden Reduction—Fact Sheet: Reducing Burden While Ensuring PublicAccess to High Quality Information,” EPA, Washing-ton, DC, 2005, http://www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/modrule/ phase2/Fact_Sheet.pdf 
year. EPA released the 2006 data in February2008, noting that TRI indicates that emissionshave gone down in most places, yet environ-mentalists questioned those findings becausethey maintain that the rule limited reporting.
In addition, some members of Congress haveproposed legislation to overturn the rule, and inNovember 2007, twelve state attorney generalscommenced a lawsuit challenging the rule.Despite all the political hype about the EPArule and TRI reporting, the law is actually notvery informative and its benefit are question-able as documented in subsequent sections of this brief.
TRI’s Regulatory Burden
TRI is often marketed as a low-cost program.But the burden placed on the private sector issignificant. For example, electric utilities haveto report on 30 chemicals—with a separate TRIform for each chemical and each plant.
Esti-mated total costs of the TRI program range upto nearly a billion dollars a year. The estimatedcosts of all EPA “right-to-know” regulationsfrom TRI, and various other programs, rangeup to $3.4 billion.
 Individual examples indicate that the regu-latory burden is unreasonably high for some
6. Katherine Boyle, “Toxic Emissions Declined in2006,”
, February 22, 2008.7. J. Winston Porter,
Utilities and TRI: A Primer onElectric Utility Companies and EPA’s Toxics ReleaseInventory
(Washington, DC: Edison Electric Institute,March 1999), 2, http://www.eei.org/industry_issues/en-vironment/air/Toxics_Release_Inventory/primer.pdf.8. Alexander Volokh, Kenneth Green, and Lynn Scar-lett, “Environmental Information: The Toxics ReleaseInventory, Stakeholder Participation, and the Right toKnow, Part 1 of 2: Shortcomings of the Current Right-to-Know Structure,” Policy Study 246, Reason Foundation,Los Angeles, 1998.
Solid and Hazardous Waste202-331-1010 www.cei.org Competitive Enterprise Institute
businesses. Nancy Klinefelter, who owns a ce-ramic decorating business with 15 employees,detailed to a congressional committee the im-pacts of the then proposed TRI rule on lead.Her firm’s lead “releases” included the leadpaint used on the ceramics. She noted that leadpaint applied to ceramics was actually a use,not a release, but she has to report it anyway.She has to track how much lead paint her firmuses on a daily basis—by color, because eachcolor contains a different level of lead. Then shehas to calculate how much lead is contained inthose paints. She noted that the EPA estimatedthat meeting the rule would require 124 hoursfor tracking lead usage. But the EPA estimatesstill represent a “gross underestimate,” she ex-plained. Her story clearly illustrates the insanityof many TRI regulations. Klinefelter noted:
I have personally spent 95 hours trying tounderstand the TRI forms and requirements… and I am still nowhere near the pointwhere I can complete the forms with confi-dence. In addition, I have spent 60 hours ormore reconstructing retroactive color usagedata [the EPA required firms to calculate us-age for the three and a half months beforeit finalized the rule]. We are now spendingabout 4 to 5 hours per week tracking leadusage to enable us to have confidence in our2002 TRI filing.
The Problematic Nature of TRI Data
Among TRI’s most serious flaws is that itcreates the illusion that the mere release of achemical is equivalent to risk, when, in fact,
9. Nancy Klinefelter, “The Lead TRI Rule: Costs, Com-pliance, and Science,” prepared remarks before the HouseCommittee on Small Business, June 13, 2002.
low-level releases and subsequent low-level ex-posures likely pose no significant risks.
Somesuggest that the EPA could address TRI’s failureto provide meaningful information on risk. Butdevising a risk-based system is practically im-possible and, given the investment required, notdesirable. Building such a system would requirebillions of dollars in expenditures—billions thatwould be diverted from other wealth-creating,quality-of-life-improving uses. Despite this veryhigh quality-of-life cost, this program wouldlikely return few benefits because chemical risksoverall are relatively low.
It is unfortunatethat Congress chose to inhibit these modestchanges to the program. TRI had proven to bea needless bureaucratic burden affecting manysmall businesses that have difficulties meetingthe costs.Other problems prevent TRI data from pro-viding meaningful information:Safe disposal of waste is counted as a
“release”—conjuring up images of dumpingsewage into rivers or releasing pollutantsinto the air—even if the disposal method isvirtually harmless and far from most peo-ple’s intuitive understanding of what con-stitutes a release. For example, TRI countsunderground injection of liquid wastes as a“release into the environment” (see figure1). Yet underground injection is one of thesafest means to dispose of liquid waste: thewaste is injected 4,000 to 5,000 feet be-low Earth’s surface, far from places whereit could damage the environment and farfrom underground drinking water sources.
10. For a discussion of low-level exposures and chemi-cal risks, see the policy brief titled “The True Causes of Cancer.”11. See the policy brief titled “The True Causes of Cancer.”

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