Toxic Chemical Releases: EPA Actions Could Reduce Environmental Information Available to Many Communities

GAO-08-128 Published: Nov 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 2007.
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Federal law requires certain facilities that manufacture, process, or use any of 581 toxic chemicals to report annually to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their state on the amount of those chemicals released into the air, water, or soil. It also requires EPA to make this information available to the public electronically through the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) database. Facilities must either (1) submit a detailed TRI Form R for each designated chemical that they use in excess of certain thresholds or (2) file a simpler Form A certifying that they need not do so. To reduce companies' burden, EPA issued a rule in December 2006 intended to expand Form A eligibility for certain facilities and chemicals. GAO was asked to analyze (1) how EPA and others use TRI data, (2) whether EPA followed internal guidelines in developing its rule, (3) the rule's impact on information available to the public, and (4) the extent of burden reduction that is likely to result from EPA's changes.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Because EPA did not agree to our recommendation that it sufficiently analyze the costs and benefits of increased use of TRI Form A, Congress may wish to consider taking appropriate actions to address concerns about reduced environmental information available to many communities. Specifically, unless EPA provides the Congress with such an analysis within 30 days of the public release of this report, the Congress may wish to consider enacting legislation, including bills already introduced, that would reverse EPA's expansion of TRI Form A eligibility for certain facilities and chemicals.
Closed – Implemented
On December 18, 2006, EPA issued the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Burden Reduction Final Rule that reduced the amount of information reported to the public about chemical releases that had previously been required from facilities manufacturing, processing, or using toxic chemicals. GAO evaluated EPA's TRI rulemaking process and the agency's regulatory impact analysis. We subsequently testified that EPA did not appropriately follow its rulemaking process, underestimated the impact of the rule's changes, and overestimated the cost savings to chemical facilities (GAO-07-464T, GAO-08-115T). In November 2007, after EPA disagreed with GAO's draft recommendation that the agency reanalyze the costs and benefits of the TRI rule, GAO reported that Congress may wish to consider enacting legislation, including bills already introduced that cited our analysis, that would reverse EPA's rulemaking (GAO-08-128). Based in large part upon our work, the Congress considered and enacted legislation to roll back EPA's changes to the TRI reporting requirements. On March 11, 2009, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 nullified EPA's changes to the TRI, and the EPA Administrator issued a final rule reinstating the previous toxic chemical reporting requirements on April 27, 2009.

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