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Post date: November 28 2007

Attorney General Cuomo Sues Epa For Denying

NEW YORK, NY (November 28, 2007) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York and eleven other states are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over new regulations denying the public access to information about toxic chemicals in their communities.

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

"The EPA's new regulations rob New Yorkers - and people across the country - of their right to know about toxic dangers in their own backyards," said Attorney General Cuomo. "Along with eleven other states throughout the nation, we will restore the public's right to information about chemical hazards, despite the Bush administration's best attempts to hide it."

The changes to the reporting requirements affect the 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 the 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, the 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, the EPA's new regulations increased by 10-fold the quantity of chemical waste a facility can generate without providing detailed TRI reports. The 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.

The EPA's rollback of TRI regulations now limits the ability of 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 EPA's rollback particularly impacts low-income communities and communities of color, many of which are burdened with the siting of industrial facilities.

Attorney General Cuomo said, "The Toxics Release Inventory program empowers communities, workers, and individuals to protect their own environment. The EPA's rollback of TRI requirements only benefits the companies that bring hazardous chemicals into our communities, while putting citizens at greater risk. My office will continue to fight against such blatant attacks on New Yorkers' right to know about the toxic dangers in their communities."

"It is clear there are no public benefits in the EPA's rollback of reporting requirements," said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis. "The EPA has estimated that the rollback affects approximately one-third of the facilities that had been subject to the Toxics Release Inventory requirements. That represents a significant amount of data no longer available to the public."

Peg Seminario, Safety and Health Director of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) said, "For two decades, the Toxics Release Inventory has been a vital and powerful tool to help workers and citizens identify and push for reductions in toxic chemical releases in workplaces and communities. But instead of strengthening protections, the Bush Administration put the interests of big chemical companies before worker and public health, and allowed companies to withhold important information about the extent of their toxic pollution. The AFL-CIO applauds Attorney General Cuomo and the other state attorneys general for challenging the Bush Administration's rollback to the TRI and seeking to restore the public's right-to-know about chemicals in their workplaces and communities."

Sean Moulton, Director of Federal Information Policy for OMB Watch, said, "OMB Watch enthusiastically supports the State Attorneys General, led by Attorney General Cuomo, questioning the legality of the Environmental Protection Agency's rule change raising thresholds for detailed reporting under the Toxics Release Inventory. This lawsuit speaks for communities across the country that will be denied information about what is in the water they drink and air they breathe under EPA's new rules."

Tom Natan, Research Director for the National Environmental Trust, said, "EPA's rollback means that more than 10% of communities will lose all data on releases of toxic chemicals to the environment. EPA claims this is insignificant. But by filing this suit, New York and other states are standing up for those communities and helping preserve useful public health data for everyone."

Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers International President, said, "Our membership has depended on the TRI as a primary source of exposure information. More important, this data has provided our members with essential tools to challenge management to use safer substitutes, tighten up processes, and ultimately reduce overall toxic emissions released in the plant and into the community. We strongly support the efforts of Attorney General Cuomo and his fellow Attorneys General to restore public access to this critically important information."

Laura Haight, New York Public Interest Research Group's (NYPIRG) senior environmental associate, said, "The Toxics Release Inventory is an invaluable tool for citizens who want to know more about toxic threats in their communities and for advocacy groups like NYPIRG that watchdog industrial polluters. The EPA's new regulations limit the public's right-to-know and will decrease the incentive for companies to reduce the amount of toxic pollution they generate. NYPIRG applauds Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for challenging the Bush Administration's new rules weakening industry reporting requirements."

Joel Shufro, Executive Director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a union-based safety and health organization based in New York City, said, "NYCOSH strongly supports the suit being brought by New York State Attorney General Cuomo and the other state Attorneys General against the EPA for restricting access to and reducing the report requirements of industries using toxic substances. Workers are doubly exposed to toxic substances - first in the plants where they work; and second, in the communities where they live. The restriction of information to TRI data will seriously restrict the ability of workers and members of the communities to make informed decisions about health hazards they face on the job and in their communities. These restrictions will prevent the identification of facilities using toxic materials which are located near schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other sites where vulnerable populations live and work."

Roger Cook, Director of the Western New York Council for Occupational Safety and Health, union based safety and health organization based in Buffalo, said, "This lawsuit is important to workers and the community. The TRI allows unions and workers to know what hazardous chemicals are being used or stored on-site by a company in which they work. Armed with this knowledge, unions have been able to ensure that companies set up emergency preparedness programs, or that safer chemicals are substituted for toxic or explosive ones. In a real sense, TRI allows workers to be the first line of defense in protecting the community. We applaud Attorney General Cuomo for fighting EPA's roll-back of the TRI program."
Eric Frumin, Director of Occupational Safety and Health for UNITE HERE, said, "We strongly support this action by Attorney General Cuomo and the other states challenging EPA's regrettable rollback of the community "Right-to-Know" rules. Through bitter experience, workers understand all too well about the dangers that uncontrolled chemicals pose to their health and safety - whether on the job, or in their communities. In fact, most of the people been killed from sudden chemical releases have been the workers themselves. Without the legal force of TRI rules, union members, emergency responders and other workers often have little power to prevent these releases from happening. And this information is often key to preventing cancer or other diseases from chemicals on the job as well. We urge EPA to reverse this relentless, unnecessary and shameful effort to weaken our basic health and safety protections from the hazards of industrial chemicals."

Tim Sweeney, Regulatory Watch Program Director for Environmental Advocates of New York, said, "Environmental Advocates of New York applauds Attorney General Cuomo for recognizing the threat that weakened TRI requirements pose to our health and the health of the environment. It is just plain wrong that the Environmental Protection Agency would raise its toxics reporting thresholds and keep the public in the dark about the presence of harmful chemicals and other dangerous substances in their communities."

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, "Our EPA should not be engaged in a plot to implement toxic secrecy. TRI information is essential for communities and government agencies to evaluate contamination problems and seek solutions that will protect public health and our environment. Hiding the facts about toxics in our communities is a true violation of the public trust. We are thrilled that Attorney General Cuomo will help lead the fight to restore the public's basic right to know if toxic releases are putting us at risk."

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE, a community-based organization in Brooklyn, said, "For years, low-income communities and communities of color have been the reluctant hosts to the majority of NYC's environmental burdens. Not surprisingly, our communities also suffer from environmentally related diseases and premature births and deaths. Our ability to defend and protect the health and well-being of the most vulnerable members of our community rests on knowing which companies are releasing toxic chemicals. Any measure that undermines our right to know triggers an environmental injustice. We applaud the efforts of Attorney General Cuomo and the other Attorneys General to restore the TRI program and our right to know."

Jackie James, Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, a community organization based in Tonawanda, said, "Community based groups such as ours consist of hard-working concerned citizens who live in the shadow of large industrial polluters. We demand access to the most current and accurate information possible. EPA's new regulation relaxing TRI's reporting requirements will impede our research and environmental justice efforts, and ultimately jeopardize the health of our community."
Dr. Joseph A. Gardella, Jr., professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, said, "The challenge by Attorney General Cuomo and his colleagues to EPA's modifications of TRI regulations is important and timely. I have been using TRI data for 12 years in collaborations with community members, government and industry, and regard TRI as a necessary tool for understanding of pollution emissions. I firmly support Attorney General Cuomo's efforts to have these new regulations overturned immediately. His environmental team has done an outstanding job of identifying critical issues that affect pollution sources across New York state and here in Western New York."

The legal action brought by New York and the eleven other states seeks to invalidate the EPA's revised TRI regulations and return to the former reporting requirements, so that public access to environmental information is not restricted. The lawsuit was filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and will be heard by District Judge Barbara S. Jones and Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman.

Congress enacted, and President Ronald Reagan signed into law, the Toxics Release Inventory program in 1986, after the Bhopal toxic chemical catastrophe in India. In 1984, a deadly cloud of methyl isocyanate accidentally released from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India killed or seriously injured more than 2,000 people. Shortly thereafter, a serious chemical release occurred at a sister plant in West Virginia.

The other states or state agencies joining New York in the suit are: Arizona; California; Connecticut; Illinois; Maine; Massachusetts; Minnesota; New Hampshire; New Jersey; the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; and Vermont.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Frank, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Andrew Gershon and Special Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection Katherine Kennedy.


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