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LEGAL ISSUES

EPA Relaxes Reporting Requirements

Supporters say the changes will streamline the compliance process and lower costs for small businesses.
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After a lengthy and controversial debate, the Environmental Protection Agency has reached a compromise on what small companies are required to disclose about toxic emissions.

In late 2005, the agency proposed relaxing the reporting requirements for small companies with low toxic-release volumes. Currently, all businesses possessing toxic substances must itemize their releases into the environment every year. This data constitutes the Toxic Release Inventory.

Companies with fewer than 500 pounds of non-PBT (persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic) release have been permitted to use a much abbreviated reporting form. The EPA initially proposed changes that would have allowed companies to report every other year, and extended the weight exemption for non-PBT releases to 10 times the current amount.

While the amendment would have streamlined the process for both small businesses and the EPA, it eventually was rewritten because of the threat unreported toxins pose to the environment.

The compromise states that annual reporting is still mandatory, and companies that release fewer than 2,000 pounds of non-PBT (instead of the proposed 5,000) can use the shortened reporting form.

Over the past year, the Small Business Administration and the National Federation of Independent Business have chimed in with a series of statements and op-ed pieces explaining why the changes would benefit small businesses.

In 2005, an SBA report found that the small firms pay nearly 1.5 times as much per employee as large firms do in order to comply with federal regulations.

In a January op-ed piece for USA Today, Andrew Langer, manager of regulatory policy for the NFIB, called the requirement "a paperwork regulation -- an exercise in environmental accounting and one that, for small businesses especially, is confusing, complex and incredibly time-consuming."

The problem with current Toxic Release Inventory regulations, Langer wrote in the same op-ed, is that "it treats the smallest of small businesses the same as it does large companies," ignoring "the well-recognized disparities that exist between them."

But both business groups now seemed pacified by the compromise. The NFIB has praised the EPA for signing the changes into effect, and in a Dec. 18 statement, the SBA said the reform "will help America’s small businesses -- especially manufacturers -- remain competitive while still informing communities of the use of toxic materials by local firms."




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