Obama To Release Toxin Data Early

An open government advocate said on Monday that he noticed the wind shift at last week's annual conference on an EPA program that shares figures on outdoor chemical pollution with the public.

Sean Moulton, OMB Watch's director of federal information policy and a keynote speaker at the event, said the new administration plans to accelerate disclosure of raw annual data on toxic chemical emissions. Past administrations have typically waited more than a year to post only final figures.

Aside from heightening access to information, earlier publication will be an incentive for industrial facilities to make sure they get the facts right the first time, Moulton said.

"The data for 2007 just came out about a month ago," Moulton said Monday, in an interview. The Obama administration will publish the information "six months or sooner and update it periodically until they lock it down at the end of the year."

EPA inputs the numbers it collects into an online, public database - known as the Toxic Release Inventory -- that informs communities about the quantities of toxic chemicals produced annually by local facilities. Congress mandated the reporting program after the 1984 Bhopal, India, disaster, where a Union Carbide facility leaked gas, killing thousands of people.

Moulton expects to see EPA become "an advocate for [toxic release] reduction," rather than just "increasing information" on toxic releases.

President Obama already has enacted one modification to the program. Folded inside the 2009 omnibus spending bill is a provision that expands the category of companies covered to include facilities that emit just over 500 pounds of chemical waste.

The Bush administration had relaxed reporting requirements to exempt facilities releasing less than 2,000 pounds, a higher threshold than the traditional 500-pound trigger.

Making a rare appearance at the annual Toxic Release Inventory conference -- organized by EPA and the Environmental Council of the States -- was an actual EPA administrator.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that EPA is "back on the job" and addressed the importance of an open and transparent EPA, OMB Watch's Web site reported on Monday.

In a separate announcement last week, Jackson said EPA has identified schools that are high-risk for outdoor air pollution. Outdoor air pollution around schools will soon be monitored more closely by using computer modeling, newspaper analysis and data from state and local agencies.

At the conference, Moulton recommended that information in the TRI database be linked to other federal data, including enforcement actions against facilities and health consequences of chemical releases.

A new online forum for analyzing and sharing toxic release data is also in the works, Moulton said. ChemicalRight2Know.org, a joint effort by EPA and ECOS, will be launched publicly later this spring.

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