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The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990: Emergence of a New Environmental Policy

June 1992

Citation: ELR 10392

Author: E. Lynn Grayson

Editors' Summary: EPA's toxics release inventory (TRI), compiled under § 313 of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), is the most comprehensive national database on toxic chemical emissions. TRI data have helped direct national, state, and local efforts to evaluate patterns in industrial toxic pollution, and have been instrumental in attempts to encourage industrial source reduction, such as EPA's 33/50 initiative, which aims for a 33 percent voluntary reduction of releases and transfers of 17 high-priority TRI chemicals by 1992 and 50 percent by 1995. EPA estimates that in 1989, manufacturing facilities required to report under EPCRA § 313 released into the environment or transferred off site 5.7 billion pounds of chemicals. EPA derived these 1989 estimates from data in 81,891 forms that 22,569 facilities submitted to comply with EPCRA § 313. Although the TRI fills an information gap on industrial chemical pollution, it covers only the tip of the toxic iceberg. More than 95 percent of all chemical emissions — about 400 billion pounds — goes unreported each year. The TRI's role in promoting and assessing pollution prevention efforts has been accordingly limited.

The Pollutio Prevention Act of 1990 broadens the TRI's role in reducing chemical source pollution. The Act makes pollution prevention reporting mandatory by requiring each TRI-regulated facility to file, beginning July 1, 1992, a source reduction and recycling report with its TRI reporting form. This source reduction and recycling report will detail the amount of source reduction achieved for each TRI chemical, as well as the pollution prevention methods employed. This Article examines the Act's new reporting obligations for TRI-regulated industries. The author discusses the reasons behind industry's cautious response to the Act, ranging from implementation costs to mandated process changes and potential enforcement ramifications. Observing that the Act imposes costly, increased reporting burdens on the very businesses from whom EPA hopes to receive support for its pollution prevention objectives, the author concludes that industry's cooperation with the Pollution Prevention Act may depend on obtaining assurances that prevention costs expended today will not result in higher costs from new regulatory mandates tomorrow.

Ms. Grayson is a member of the environmental practice group of the Chicago law firm of Coffield Ungaretti & Harris. Ms. Grayson is the former Chief Legal Counsel for the Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency, and in the past served as an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Illinois in the Environmental Control Division. The author gratefully acknowledges the editorial assistance of colleague Elizabeth S. Kucera.

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