Don t name and shame

The United States' Environmental Protection Agency (epa) decided, on September 21, 2005 to relax its toxic pollutant reporting requirements. The annual compilation of data on toxics companies release began in 1986 under the community right-to-know law, the result of a civil society campaign for the right to know which companies release what kinds of pollutants into the environment. epa releases the annually compiled data in the form of a Toxic Release Inventory (tri).

But now epa wants to pull back on two fronts, in the name of "easing regulatory burden'. It has proposed to decrease the kind of data required to be reported and increase the cut-off limit for reporting. Currently, for instance, all companies must report the release of a specific chemical if the release is more than 500 pounds (226.79 kg). But under the new scheme, epa will adopt a "short form' that excuses companies from disclosing spills and other releases of toxic substances if they claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds (2267.9 kg) of a specific chemical. Included in the exemption are companies that store onsite, but claim to release "zero' amounts of the worst pollutants, such as mercury, ddt and pcbs. In addition, epa wants to compile the data every other year instead of the current annual report.

tri was pathbreaking, heralding an era of transparency in pollution control. Every citizen could know exactly what kinds and quantities of toxic pollutants were released in their vicinity. Thus, diluting the reporting requirements is a direct assault on people's right to know. It will deprive communities of current information on toxic releases; crucially, about one third of the 23,000 companies that currently report on toxic releases will now be exempted from this requirement. Information on releases of more than 600 chemicals will disappear if the epa proposal becomes law.

This move will completely strangle incentives a tri -like initiative offers, in terms of minimising toxic waste generation. For tri is not merely a reporting exercise. It is also what many call "naming and shaming': based on available information, people could identify major culprits polluting the environment. This automatically meant a negative image and in many cases a public boycott of the products of the worst polluters, thus pushing companies to reduce pollution, becoming clean to look clean. epa has clearly forgotten this. It has taken a fatal step backwards.