Wonks should take note, everyone else can just (hopefully) benefit. The EPA today announced proposed changes to its TSCA Inventory Update Reporting rule, which allows EPA to collect and make public information on the manufacture, processing and use of commercial chemicals (those covered under TSCA), including information on production and how the chemicals are used. The proposed changes to the current Inventory Update Rule would take effect for the next reporting period in 2011. Among the changes proposed by EPA are requiring electronic reporting of required information (which will save time, money, resources, and ensure accuracy); increasing the frequency of reporting from five years to four years, requiring annual reporting of production volumes for relevant chemicals (rather than just one year out of five), eliminating the 300,000 pound threshold for reporting of processing and use information (the information would be required for all chemicals produced annually at 25,000 pounds or greater), tightening the options for claiming information as confidential business information when it is submitted, and obtaining more specific information on commercial and consumer uses of chemicals.
This may sound boring, but it is an important effort by EPA to get a better handle, with the limited tools it has under the current TSCA, on the amount of chemicals being produced (including imported) in this country, what they are being used for, and who is potentially being exposed to them.
In some respects the final rule should go farther. In its proposed rule, EPA solicits public comment on some other options including alternative thresholds for being subject to reporting requirements (10,000 pounds rather than 25,000 pounds) and frequency of required reporting (including maintaining the current five year requirement and adopting shorter frequencies of every year, two years or three years). Lower reporting thresholds and more frequent reporting will provide additional information about many more chemicals in a timeframe that is more relevant for making policy decisions and for the public.
While it is good news that EPA has proposed these changes to the rule, the real test will be to see what gets finalized after the comment period closes. The comment period will end 60 days from the date the proposal is published in the Federal Register (so, roughly, mid-October). What EPA has proposed is modest (in some respects maybe too modest), reasonable, and necessary to better protect and better inform the public. It will be a good test of whether industry can (or cares to) maintain any credibility for its claims to support reform of TSCA. I hope I’m wrong, but I anticipate significant opposition to this proposal will come from the chemical industry, and its numerous affiliated trade associations. And, if industry comes out swinging against this proposal, it will also be a test of the Obama Administration as to whether it will stand up for the public’s (and the EPA’s) right to know about chemical production and use in this country.
So, kudos to EPA for taking another step toward improving the implementation of TSCA, with all of the limitations it currently has. Let’s hope something this good, or even a bit better, can make it across the finish line later this year. Then we’ll all be able to stand up and cheer: “Hooray for the TSCA Inventory Update Reporting Modifications!”