Pollution-Reporting Law Doesn't Apply to Government Polluters

By Weidenbaum, Murray L. | Insight on the News, October 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

Pollution-Reporting Law Doesn't Apply to Government Polluters


Weidenbaum, Murray L., Insight on the News


Virtually every discussion of the environment seems to equate pollution with business. Of course, some companies do pollute the environment and there is no need to let them off the hook. Individuals, you and I, also pollute. After all, we generate the demand for the products of polluting industries, and we frequently pollute when we use or discard these products. However, some of the very biggest polluters are government agencies themselves and too often they get a free ride in terms of public opinion.

A good, or bad, example of the cover-up of this dirty little secret is contained in the environmentalists' favorite law, the Community Right to Know Act. How can anyone be opposed to letting the public know who is polluting the environment and how much? Yet finding out how that law works in practice is a real eye-opener. Recall that regularly, usually once a year, local newspapers run a story about the biggest polluters in each state. Invariably, the article is based on the Environmental Protection Agency's, or EPA's, data on the emissions by the major companies doing business in the area.

Concerned that some of the worst polluters are government installations, I once called the EPA, asking why no federal agencies were on its list. The response was fascinating: The way Congress wrote the Community Right to Know Act limits the reporting of emissions to private enterprises. Apparently, the public does not have a right to know the details of pollution by government and nonprofit organizations.

Is it any wonder that the public tends to equate business with pollution? Thus, from time to time, we read reports of plant closings because of the high cost of meeting environmental and other regulatory standards. In contrast, there is no record of a single government facility closing down because it was not meeting ecological or other regulatory requirements.

Nevertheless, some information seeps out from time to time. In the early 1990s, the National Toxic Campaign Fund (a private environmental advocacy group) labeled the military establishment the nation's worst polluter, responsible for more than 14,000 "toxic hot spots" at military bases around the nation. …

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