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Amendment Takes Aim At Right-To-Know Law

A GOP senator wants to muzzle the law that tells the public what toxic chemicals are used or released in their communities.

Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi has proposed an amendment challenging the Community Right-to-Know law passed by Congress in 1986.

Lott’s amendment would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prove within 60 days that each of over 600 chemicals on its Toxic Release Inventory list is causing serious public health problems.

If the EPA can’t prove it, polluters would no longer be required to report the chemical emissions to the public.

Environmental groups are outraged.

“Senator Lott’s amendment would effectively gut the Toxic Release Inventory,” said Liz Moses of the Washington Toxics Coalition.

“It’s part of a move by corporations and their lobbyists in Congress to weaken environmental regulations,” she said.

The EPA also is opposed.

“We don’t think there’s a need for those kinds of significant changes to the Toxic Release Inventory. It doesn’t fit the spirit of what ‘right to know’ is all about,” said Jim Aidala of EPA’s pesticides and toxic substances office in Washington D.C.

The act was passed after the disastrous poisonous gas leak from a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India in 1984. Thousands were injured and more than 2,500 people, mostly children, died.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act “simply tells citizens what chemicals are released in their communities. It’s elegant in its simplicity,” Aidala said.

Industry has complained to the EPA that the data can be misused and misinterpreted.

Lott’s staff didn’t return several calls Friday on his proposed amendment to the Energy Risk Management Act, under consideration by the Senate Energy Committee.

There were 320 chemicals on the original Toxic Release Inventory list; EPA added 286 more last November.