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Vermont And Other States Sue EPA For Denying The Public Access To Information On Toxic Chemicals In Their Neighborhoods

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, (802) 828-0269

November 28, 2007 - Attorney General William H. Sorrell announced that Vermont and eleven other states and state agencies filed suit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over new regulations denying the public access to information about toxic chemicals in their communities.

By rolling back chemical reporting requirements, EPA’s new rule will allow thousands of companies to avoid disclosing information to the public about the toxic chemicals they use, store, and release into the environment. The suit seeks to overturn the weakened reporting requirements and provide the public with the access they had in the past under the former regulations.

“Our communities deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being released to their air, water and land,” stated Attorney General Sorrell. “At a time when there should be more, rather than less, disclosure relating to toxic chemicals, EPA’s rule is wrongheaded and violates federal law,” he added.

The changes to the reporting requirements affect EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. The TRI is the only comprehensive, publicly-available database of toxic chemical use, storage, and release in the United States. Under the TRI, companies are required to provide EPA and the states in which the company’s facilities are located with information critical to public health and safety, and the environment. This information includes the types and amounts of toxic chemicals stored at the company’s facilities and the quantities they release into the environment.

In December 2006, EPA issued revised regulations that significantly weakened the TRI by reducing the amount of information companies must report for most of the toxic chemicals covered by the program. For most toxic chemicals, EPA’s new regulations increased by 10-fold the quantity of chemical waste a facility can generate without providing detailed TRI reports. EPA also weakened TRI reporting requirements for the vast majority of the most dangerous toxic chemicals – those that are persistent and bioaccumulative – including chemicals such as lead and mercury. As a result, thousands of companies can now avoid filing a complete report on harmful chemicals.

Under the former regulations, TRI information became a powerful tool used by communities to protect public health and safety, and the environment:

  • Citizen groups used TRI data to monitor companies in their communities;
  • State and local government entities used TRI data to track toxic chemicals;
  • Labor organizations used TRI data to ensure the safety of their workers;
  • Companies used the TRI program to learn of the toxic pollution they had created; this resulted in companies voluntarily reducing their toxic chemical releases by billions of pounds nationwide.

EPA’s rollback of TRI regulations now limits the ability of states, labor organizations, environmental and public health advocates, community groups, and individuals to effectively monitor and respond to the presence of toxins in their communities.

The lawsuit was filed today in federal court in the Southern District of New York. The other states or state agencies involved in the suit are: Arizona; California; Connecticut; Illinois; Maine; Massachusetts; Minnesota; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

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