By: Eric Niiler and Kai Ryssdal National Public Radio's
Marketplace November 4, 2005
KAI RYSSDAL, anchor: There is good bureaucracy
and there is not-so-good bureaucracy. Of course, what someone thinks about
a given rule or regulation kind of depends. Take a government report called
the Toxic Release Inventory, or TRI. American companies have had to file
TRIs for almost 20 years. They list the kinds of chemicals those companies
use to make whatever they make. The forms give neighbors a clue as to
what goes on inside a given plant or factory and community groups have
used the information to pressure companies to cut pollution. Now, though,
the White House wants to cut down on the paperwork. Eric Niiler has more.
ERIC NIILER reporting: Down here along the
Ohio River, just west of Cincinnati, barges pull up to the Lanxess factory
and unload chemical raw materials. Inside a maze of pipes and boilers,
these compounds are broken down under heat and pressure to make new ones.
Plant manager Sandy Marshall says the plastic resins made here go into
products that you probably never thought much about.
Mr. SANDY MARSHALL (Plant Manager, Lanxess):
The material we make here goes on to refrigerators, appliances, boat hulls,
NIILER: During manufacturing, some chemicals
are released to the surrounding air or water and each year, Marshall and
his team must tell the Environmental Protection Agency how much and what
kind in something called the Toxic Release Inventory forms. Marshall says
it's time-consuming to figure out these numbers but there are some benefits.
Mr. MARSHALL: TRI is a significant amount
of work for us. However, the data is important because it does allow us
to show to the community what we're doing and allows us to enter into
a dialogue with the community.
NIILER: The TRI reports and local activists
have convinced managers like Marshall to reduce chemical releases by fixing
leaky pipes and installing scrubbers to destroy toxic chemicals. Cutting
pollution can save money says Marshall.
Mr. MARSHALL: We also use the data as a way
of assessing how we are doing in our plant. NIILER: After 19 years, most
industries are used to filing these reports, kind of like taxes. But Washington
wants to change that. EPA assistant administrator Kimberly Nelson says
the TRI reports have become too much paperwork. She says the big pollution
cuts were accomplished years ago. Now she wants to allow plants to file
their reports every two years.
Ms. KIMBERLY NELSON (EPA Assistant Administrator):
We're not seeing the changes from year to year that we saw in the
early years. So as we look for better ways to use taxpayer dollars, this
is an option we're putting out for discussion purposes.
NIILER: Another change would raise the threshold
for filing reports by tenfold. This change would save the EPA $2 million
a year, Nelson says, while saving smaller business owners time and money
as well. Ms. NELSON: Since I've been here, I certainly have heard from
the small business community that some of the reporting obligations tend
to be burdensome.
Ms. RUTH BREECH (Ohio Citizen Action): Who's
it a burden on? To me, that's a burden on the community.
NIILER: Ruth Breech is coordinator of Ohio
Citizens Action. She says business is doing just fine. She says the public
will pay a price if the rules are relaxed. Using TRI reports and some
homemade air pollution monitors, Breech and some local volunteers discovered
that the Lanxess plastics factory had been emitting toxic chemicals into
the nearby town of Addyston, Ohio.
Ms. BREECH: We smell the kind of almost like
a sweet smell. Come to find out that's acrylonitrile; kind of a pungent
smell that burns your nose, we found out that was Butadiene. So we were
able to make all these connections to the odors.
NIILER: Breech has become somewhat of an
expert in using the data to find out what's in the air, but she says that
if the EPA changes go through, local groups won't be able to get up-to-date
Ms. BREECH: You go to the companies, say,
`Hey, we looked at your toxic release inventory and you've got some problems.'
And they're saying, `Oh, that's two years old. We've already updated.'
NIILER: What's unusual about this dispute
is that major industry groups in Washington haven't been fighting for
these changes; that's according to several environmental lobbyists. Richard
Wiles is senior vice president at the Environmental Working Group.
Mr. RICHARD WILES (Senior Vice President, Environmental
Working Group): We were not aware of any push on the part of industry
to roll back TRI reporting requirements. This appears to be a gift from
the Bush administration to industry.
NIILER: The EPA's Nelson says she decided
to make the changes on her own. EPA officials say they will hear public
comments before making a final decision sometime next year. In Addyston,
Ohio, I'm Eric Niiler for MARKETPLACE.