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Special Report

Fortnightly Magazine - January 1 1999

its requirements was a mandate to expand TRI to include additional information on toxic chemicals.

Not to be outdone, on Earth Day 1997, President Clinton announced his administration was expanding the TRI requirement to include electric utilities, commercial hazardous waste treatment facilities, metal mines, petroleum bulk terminals, coal mines, solvent recyclers, hazardous waste storage and disposal facilities, and chemical wholesalers.

Each year since 1987, about 24,000 chemical, paper and other industrial companies have filed TRI reports on releases of what now amounts to approximately 650 different chemicals. Utilities had been exempt, but that status ended in 1997.

Under TRI, each coal- and oil-fired generating facility is required to take a separate inventory of the toxic chemicals it releases into the air and water and onto the land, including any underground injections. With that data, the EPA intends to create a report that can be used by policymakers, activists and adversaries to hold companies accountable for their releases. This approach is proving to be an efficient means of motivating companies in other industries to reduce their emissions, not only because it's good politics but also because it makes good business sense.

"Companies can do whatever they want with this information. It's their data," said EPA's Doa.

By June 30, 1999, electric utilities are required to submit a report to the EPA, in writing or electronically, to identify their 1998 toxic releases. Also, they must deliver that report to the environmental regulatory agency in the state where each generating facility is located. As this issue went to press, 37 states plus the District of Columbia were accepting electronic submissions.

EPA said it would allow emitters to review the data they've submitted for accuracy until Oct. 15, 1999. After that, by mid- to late-2000, the agency says it will publish the data in a volume several hundreds of pages in length. But don't count on the data staying under wraps until then.

As soon as it is made available, expect that any private-interest or advocacy group worth its salt (or should we say "silicon") will have packaged and posted the data on the World Wide Web within days-or perhaps even minutes for those utilities that file electronically. The moment a utility zaps its files to the EPA, even before Oct. 15, when the information becomes "official," they could appear on a public website. Therein lies one big pitfall. Some utilities appear better prepared than others.

For those that aren't quite prepared, here are three important caveats:

1. Few Mitigation Options. Many industrial companies have at least a couple of options for reducing their emissions. In fact, some chemical and paper companies employ re-engineered processes that significantly reduce the toxic chemicals released. Not so for utilities using coal or oil, because processes fired by these fuels entail combustion. And right now, alternate methods don't exist for burning coal or oil to power the turbines that generate electricity-if the lights are to stay on, that is.

2. Scrubbers No Help. Whatever is released by combustion will be part of a utility's Toxics Release Inventory. So even if