In a little-noticed provision of President Obama’s spending bill, companies will now have to provide more detailed disclosure of the toxic chemicals they release into the environment. This measure overturns a 2006 regulation passed by President Bush that eased the requirements for almost six hundred chemicals and will affect oil refineries, chemical manufacturers, automakers and electronic manufacturers nationwide. It restores the previous standard, established by law in 1986, which requires all facilities to inform the public about any chemical releases that total five hundred pounds a year or more, as opposed to Bush’s two thousand pound threshold. Because of their high number of chemical plants, New Jersey and California are the states most affected by the change. Under the Bush rule, more than 3,500 facilities did not have to report detailed information about their toxic chemical emissions and waste management practices.
Officials from the affected industries estimate that they spend $650 million a year obeying the current requirements. They argue the changes put in place by the Bush administration lowered their regulatory burden without posing a danger to Americans’ health and the new measure may impose substantial compliance costs. Environmental activists, on the other hand, argue that the provision is important because it gives companies incentive to decrease toxic emissions and helps provoke communities to mobilize for a cleaner environment.
The previous law, referred to above, was signed into law by President Reagan. If it was OK for Reagan, why was it bad for Mr. Bush? The law was not broken before, so it is not broken now that President Obama seeks to reinstate it. Corporate interests, i.e., big money, had the ear of the previous administration, and that is the reason Mr. Bush reversed Mr. Reagan.