The unbearable lightness of burden reduction

Who will protect the environment from Bush's EPA?

Andrew Leonard
May 8, 2006 10:29PM (UTC)

Thanks to a nifty government program called the Toxic Release Inventory, I can plug my ZIP code into a database and find out if any nearby companies are pumping nasty chemicals into the atmosphere. Luckily, my neighborhood in South Berkeley is not known for its heavy industry, so it appears that my immediate whereabouts are safe. But try 94804, just a few miles north, near the much more industrially concentrated city of Richmond, Calif. The list is eye-opening.

If Bush's Environmental Protection Agency gets its way, the number of companies that are currently required to report their toxic chemical releases will be drastically reduced. Adding insult to injury, the EPA also wants to change how often -- from annually to biennially -- companies must report their toxic releases.


All in the name of "burden reduction," a phrase that is the clear winner of this week's How the World Works Bogus Rhetoric Award. "Burden reduction" means the easing of regulatory requirements that industry finds chafing. It's a hot topic at Bush's EPA -- indeed, since the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency has never been staffed by administrators more dedicated to alleviating the awful regulatory load that so hampers American corporations in their efforts to make an honest buck.

Never mind that even if one takes at face value the dollar figures for savings that the EPA predicts will result from its changes, they still will amount to a drop in the bucket (especially compared to the budget for, say, public relations expenditures for the chemical industry). And never mind that the EPA makes no attempt to calculate what the cost might be to the public for decreasing the amount of information available about toxic chemical releases. The EPA is on a mission -- not to protect the environment, but to protect business from environmental regulations.

This is not to say that Kafka wouldn't get dizzy trying to figure out how to comply with complex government environmental regulations. If you were a visitor from another planet with no background knowledge about American politics, and you started to read some of the documents the EPA provides to justify its proposed rule changes, you might think, hey, this doesn't sound too bad. Surely there must be ways to simplify reporting procedures that save money and don't harm the public interest.


But if you're from this planet you don't have much of an excuse. For an utterly blistering critique of the EPA's proposed changes, my first advice would be to read the comments submitted to the EPA by the Society of Environmental Journalists. If that isn't convincing, the next step would be to read OMBWatch's devastating report on how Bush's EPA has been working to weaken the Toxic Release Inventory for years. Or a rather strongly worded letter from a bipartisan group of senators questioning the need for any changes at all.

Then go back and reread some of the EPA's justifications for its proposed changes. You can only come to one conclusion. We are ruled, not by idiots, but by amazingly devious corporate stooges.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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