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OPINION

Blunt Rochester on chemical releases and communities

Delaware News Desk
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester pressed Administrator Andrew Wheeler of the Environmental Protection Agency on the administrator’s proposal to cut the budget of the Toxics Release Inventory by a third. The TRI program is an essential tool for communities to know of toxic chemical releases that occur.

Blunt Rochester: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Wheeler, I want to thank you for being here today to talk about these critically important EPA programs. I would like to focus first on the Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI, something that your budget documents refer to as “the Agency’s premier source of data on toxic chemicals release and management.”

I couldn’t agree more that the TRI database is an essential tool, especially for a community’s right to know when there is a chemical release. Because of this, I am concerned that you have proposed cutting the budget for TRI by a third.

Mr. Wheeler, why have you proposed to drastically cut the funding for this important program?

Wheeler: First of all, I fully support the TRI program. When I graduated from law school I started as a career employee at the EPA in 1991 working on the TRI program. We made some tough decisions, but we believe the amount of resources we’ve requested for the TRI program, will continue the program as it is today. I’m a big supporter of the right to know concept and the TRI program overall, again, I worked on that program for over 4 years as a career employee in the early ‘90’s, so I fully support the program.

Blunt Rochester: You fully support it, but cut it by a third? And you’re saying on the record you believe you have the resources?

Wheeler: If you look historically at the number of resources that program has taken, we’ve gotten more efficient and more effective at running the program. We used to have a much larger staff in the 90’s when it was a new program, but with the use of computer reporting the use of other groups using the data, the costs are going down.

Blunt Rochester: I am working on legislation to strengthen the TRI program by requiring public meetings to be held by covered facilities, annually and following any significant toxic releases. In Delaware, we have had serious issues where there has been a toxic chemical release and the surrounding community felt in the dark about the incident and its effect on their health. This is unacceptable.

Mr. Wheeler, what is EPA doing now to require TRI covered facilities to inform the communities on their fenceline when a release occurs?

Wheeler: Well the TRI program doesn’t require reporting to the local communities, but by reporting the information publicly, local community people have access to that information and data. That was the original right to know legislation-it was passed in the mid 80’s. So through the TRI program, neighboring communities have access to that data and they can access that through the EPA website and other organizations.

Blunt Rochester: So basically, you’re not doing anything. They have to go out and find it.

Wheeler: No, we’re putting that information out to the public. We’re making it publicly available.