WASHINGTON – No one lives in Wagner’s Point anymore, which is one reason why Cleanup Coalition Director Terry Harris opposes a Bush administration plan to change toxic release regulations.
Harris used data from the Toxic Release Inventory, a public record of chemical management, in persuading residents to leave the polluted Baltimore-area community in a buyout deal with the city 1999.
The TRI reports that Harris used might be less complete in the future. Last week, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and 11 other attorneys general criticized an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would reduce some TRI reporting.
“The purpose of the change is supposedly to reduce the burden on companies that have to report,” Curran said. “I don’t think that’s a very good reason. In fact it’s a wrong reason to change it.”
The TRI Burden Reduction Proposed Rule could pose risks to Maryland communities and the Chesapeake Bay, Curran said. There are numerous chemical plants around densely populated Baltimore and the state is downwind from coal-fired plants in Ohio that release sulfur, mercury and lead. Chemicals from these sources often end up in the Chesapeake Bay, he said.
The proposed reduction rule, introduced in September, would allow some facilities to use a shorter, simplified form to report toxic waste instead of a longer one. The new form reduces reporting time because it has fewer information fields to complete and fewer mathematical calculations to perform, according to the EPA.
“It was to make life a little easier for businesses,” said Suzanne Ackerman, a spokeswoman for the EPA. “It’s quite a to-do with 24,000 facilities reporting in 2003, the last full report we issued, on 650 chemicals. This is not a small effort.”
Facilities that manage fewer than 500 pounds of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals would be eligible for the new form. Facilities that handle fewer than 5,000 pounds of non-PBT chemicals would also be eligible.
Curran said he would like to see more reporting, not less, and Harris agreed.
“We’ve put the (TRI) reporting to a lot of good use here,” Harris said of his group, an environmental advocacy organization. “Making it less frequent and simplified means people who use the information will find it less useful.”
The TRI was created in 1988 under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.
Public interest group MaryPIRG received an “astronomical” outpouring of support when it raised concerns over the TRI rule change, said policy associate Chris Fick. Most of the Maryland companies MaryPIRG has spoken to have no objections to their TRI reporting duties, Fick said, adding only the largest companies would benefit.
“I think it’s mainly the administration trying to be cozy with business interests,” Fick said.
MaryPIRG submitted comments to the EPA regarding the proposal before the deadline Jan. 13. It will take the EPA at least six months to review public comments, Ackerman said. The earliest the rule could take effect is December 2006, she said.
Meanwhile, Harris points to Wagner’s Point, now part of Baltimore, as proof of the TRI’s significance.
“Nobody lives there now,” he said. “The houses there were bulldozed and now I think it’s a parking lot for the city.”