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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Toxics Release Inventory, As Prepared

10/17/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

When the Toxics Release Inventory became a reality, our communities and our citizens gained a powerful defense for their health, their environment and the health of their children. Over the years, as our technology has improved and our outreach has expanded, this program has become more accessible and more understandable to the American people – and more vital to our work.

It embodies the accountability that communities across our nation expect and deserve. That is something that’s at the heart of the environmental protection movement. When people stepped up 40 years ago to call for stronger environmental protections in their communities, it was because they were dealing with smog and air pollution they could see and smell. It was because their rivers were so polluted that they caught fire.

As safeguards improved and cleanups progressed, we faced the challenge of dealing with pollution and health threats that could only be measured in parts per million. Our communities needed new tools to ensure that they knew about the conditions around their homes and schools and places of worship. That is what TRI is all about.

I started with the environmental protection agency 24 years ago, just as TRI was getting off the ground. In my career I have seen the importance of TRI in very real terms. I have worked with communities and individuals who were concerned about exposure to toxic pollution. It’s been part of my job, from the early years I spent at EPA to my days with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. And when I came back to the EPA as Administrator in 2009, one of the first major news stories was a USA Today piece about air quality around our children’s schools. USA Today wrote that using TRI data to track the path of industrial pollution in reference to almost 128,000 schools. Because of that concern, we worked to ensure that parents could get critical information, and that we could take action where action was needed.

That is how this works. And let me tell you – it has worked. Since this law took effect, toxic releases in our country have dropped more than 76 percent. Here in New Jersey, the progress has been even more dramatic: toxic releases to the air, water and soil are down 94 percent. That’s a reduction of more than 21 million pounds in New Jersey alone.

Many businesses reduced their chemical releases because they knew TRI would make their pollution a matter of public record. The public’s right to know translated into a motivation for action. Other companies recognized the business opportunities in less waste, greater innovation, and stronger relations with the communities they operate in. They know that TRI is not just about identifying and punishing polluters – it is also useful for recognizing good corporate citizens and supporting their work to grow our economy and protect our health.

And because of this success, TRI has gone global. As of this summer, more than 50 countries have put programs in place based on the TRI model.

Serving the public’s right-to-know; ensuring that our data is based on the best science and full transparency; and making sure that it is as accessible as possible – are critical to everything we do. And that makes the TRI an indispensable part of the work the EPA does.

The success of TRI is a testament to the success of Senator Frank Lautenberg. Senator Lautenberg has dedicated his career in public office to protecting our health and our children’s health – and to empowering the people of New Jersey and the people of this country to safeguard their own communities. Senator Lautenberg had the foresight in 1986 to write the legislation that established TRI. He has continuously argued – forcefully and passionately – that the public has a right to know what is being emitted into the air they breathe. He knows that our facilities have a responsibility to keep the public informed.

Today he has a powerful partner in advocating for the people of New Jersey in Senator Robert Menendez. They know that when people know about pollution and health threats in their communities, they do what it takes to clean them up. I’m proud to be here to celebrate the TRI with Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, members of the Ironbound community, and representatives of New Jersey worker safety and environmental groups. I want to say thank you – once again – to Senator Lautenberg for his instrumental role in making the TRI possible.