OMB WATCH, MAY 23, 2006
Amid contentious debate over its version of the Interior Appropriations Bill, the House of Representatives took an important stand for the environment and the public’s right to know about toxic pollution. Last Thursday, the House voted to accept the Pallone-Solis Toxic Right-To-Know amendment that shuts down plans by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce reporting of toxic pollution under the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program.
By a vote of 231 to 187, the House passed the Pallone-Solis amendment. Forty-eight Republicans voted with 182 Democrats and one Independent in support of the amendment, while 15 Democrats voted with 172 Republicans against it.
“Lawmakers have sent a clear message to the EPA that they and their constituents value the public’s right to know about toxic pollution,” stated Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy for OMB Watch. “The EPA’s attempts to rollback reporting on toxic pollution are unacceptable to so many Americans and their representatives have expressed that with their vote.”
OMB Watch, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and a multitude of organizations and individuals around the country worked in recent weeks to generate support for the amendment, including public health officials, state agencies, emergency responders, workers, environmentalists, and ordinary citizens.
“By rejecting EPA’s proposed rollbacks, the House recognized that our right-to-know about toxic pollution is fundamental and must not be eroded,” said U.S. PIRG staff attorney Alex Fidis. “The question now is whether EPA will listen to the House and the 113,000 public comments submitted in opposition to the agency’s imprudent rollbacks.”
A May 17 letter to members of the House from 196 organizations expressed support for the Pallone-Solis Toxic Right-To-Know Amendment, explaining that “[t]he EPA’s changes would make it more difficult for citizens to track toxic pollution in their neighborhoods and take steps to reduce the impact on their family’s health.” Among the national organizations signing the letter were the American Nurses Association, AFL-CIO, American Lung Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Public Health Association, and Sierra Club.
In 1986, Congress created the TRI in response to the chemical disaster at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India that killed thousands. For nearly 20 years, the TRI has been an essential tool in alerting communities, workers, first responders, and public health officials to the presence of toxic chemicals and has provided critical assistance in dealing with highly hazardous situations. The TRI, for instance, played a critical role in identifying toxic chemicals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Last October, the EPA proposed to allow companies to: (1) release ten times more toxic chemicals before detailed reporting is required; (2) withhold information on the disposal of Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBTs), like lead and mercury; and (3) report every other year, instead of annually. The Pallone-Solis Toxic Right-to-Know Amendment prevents the EPA from making any of these three changes, by barring the agency from spending any more money on the changes.