After an internal debate among his advisers, President Clinton sided with environmentalists Tuesday and enacted new federal rules forcing thousands more industrial facilities to report publicly the toxic chemicals they discharge into the air, land and water.
Clinton marked Earth Day by announcing the decision to expand the decade-old “community right-to-know” program, which provides detailed information to local communities and citizen activist groups that monitor the impact of factories, power plants and other businesses.
“By expanding community right to know, we’re giving Americans a powerful - very powerful - early warning system to keep their children safe from toxic pollution,” Clinton said in a statement before leaving the White House to tour flood-damaged North Dakota. “We’re giving them the most powerful tool in a democracy - knowledge. We are truly living up to the promise of Earth Day.”
The broadened reporting program has been one of the administration’s top environmental priorities, and Clinton’s decision to proceed with it fulfills promises made during last year’s campaign.
In recent weeks, administration officials discussed softening the plan in response to complaints from industry officials and congressional Republicans that the requirements are too burdensome for small businesses. But in the end, the president rejected suggestions that certain industries remain exempt from the disclosure rule.
The new rules will add 6,100 facilities to the list of those required to disclose toxic releases each year, for an overall increase of nearly 30 percent. Seven industries that previously were not covered will now be subject to the requirements, including metal mining, coal mining, electric utilities, commercial hazardous waste treatment, petroleum bulk terminals, chemical wholesalers and solvent recovery services. Moreover, 700 chemical manufacturing facilities that already were affected now will be obligated to report additional types of pollution.
Begun in 1986, the program created a national database of chemical releases that is used by more than 1,500 citizen groups across the country. Residents can tap into the Internet or visit local libraries, type in their ZIP code and immediately find out what toxic materials are being discharged in their neighborhoods.
Clinton has already doubled the number of chemicals covered by the system and another proposal included in his budget pending in Congress would enhance the database by requiring more “real time” reporting, rather than just once a year.
In the 11 years since the program began, the facilities reporting toxic releases have reduced their emissions by 43 percent, according to the administration, although how much of that can be attributed to the program is open to debate.
Critics have said that the rules are too costly, especially for small businesses, which pay an estimated $7,000 a year to comply with the paperwork.
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