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EPA seeks to ease reporting of toxics

Agency says it wants to reduce business burden

WASHINGTON -- The government wants to stop forcing companies to report small releases of toxic pollutants and allow them to submit reports on their pollution less frequently.

Saying it wants to ease its regulatory burden on companies, the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday proposed adopting a ''short form" that would excuse companies from disclosing spills and other releases of toxic substances if:

They say they release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical. The current limit is 500 pounds.

They store onsite but say they release ''zero" amounts of the worst pollutants, such as mercury, DDT, and PCBs, that persist in the environment and work up the food chain. However, they must report if they have stored dioxin or dioxin-like compounds, even if none is released.

EPA said it also plans to ask Congress for permission to require the accounting every other year instead of annually. The EPA's annual Toxics Release Inventory began under a 1986 community right-to-know law. The first year the change could be possible, if Congress agreed, would be 2008.

Senator James Jeffords, Independent of Vermont, called the proposal ''a frontal assault" on one of the nation's most successful environmental laws.

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