EPA inventory opens generators to scrutiny, especially if they burn coal.
Hazardous emissions are one thing. Damaging publicity is something else-especially in the point-and-click world of Internet access.
In the coming year, the fuels that utilities choose to generate electricity will fall under a stronger media microscope. That's when coal- and oil-fired electricity generators must begin reporting information about their accumulated releases of toxic chemicals for 1998. The public bundling of this data-much of which is already reported under four separate environmental laws-will add significantly to the pressure on some utilities to reduce their releases of toxic chemicals into the environment.
This time, however, it may prove much more difficult to manage any adverse publicity.
The pressure may come not only from environmental activists and government authorities. State groups, independent generators and other utilities-especially those trying to call attention to their environmental track records-may be among the instigators. In a competitive market for generation, suppliers may rely on reports of toxic chemical releases to distinguish themselves from the competition.
In the first 11 years of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) requirement for chemical and other manufacturing companies covered under the statute,fn1, facilities submitting data reportedly have reduced emissions by 43 percent. Then, in 1997, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added seven industry groups to the TRI program, including electric utilities.fn2 "This will put a spotlight on how utilities are managing their wastes," said Maria Doa, chief of the Toxics Release Inventory Branch at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.