12 states sue EPA over toxic chemical data
By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Twelve states sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday over new regulations that the plaintiffs say make it harder for the public to learn about toxic chemicals in their communities.
The lawsuit focuses on the agency's Toxics Release Inventory program, known as TRI, which requires companies to provide information on the type and amount of toxic chemicals stored in company facilities and to say how much is released into the environment.
The revised regulations reduce the amount of information companies must provide for most toxic chemicals, increasing by 10 times the quantity of chemical waste a facility can emit without giving detailed reports, the plaintiffs allege.
The lawsuit claims the new rules weaken reporting requirements for the majority of the most dangerous toxic chemicals, including lead and mercury, that build up in the body.
"The EPA's new regulations rob New Yorkers -- and people across the country -- of their right to know about toxic dangers in their own backyards," said New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "We will restore the public's right to information and about chemical hazards, despite the Bush administration's best attempts to hide it."
'MAKING A GOOD PROGRAM BETTER'
Cuomo filed the federal suit in New York City on behalf of New York state, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Vermont.
An agency spokeswoman said the TRI revisions "are making a good program better" and the EPA is reviewing the lawsuit.
The TRI program does not limit the toxic chemicals companies can emit, but requires they report data about their use and disposal of toxic chemicals to the EPA and state governments. That information is available to the public through an online EPA database.
"TRI has been at the heart of one of our nation's most successful voluntary pollution control efforts," the suit alleges. "Due to TRI, many companies have dramatically reduced their chemical use and release, in some cases by 50 percent or more."
The plaintiffs say the weakening of TRI regulations makes it harder for labor organizations, environmental and public health advocates, community groups and individuals to monitor the presence of toxins in their communities.
"Instead of strengthening protections, the Bush administration put the interests of big chemical companies before worker and public health, and allowed companies to withhold important information about the extent of their toxic pollution," Peg Seminario of the AFL-CIO said in a statement.
(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Peter Cooney)