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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

Dispelling TRI reporting Myths: Over-Reporting as a Safety Net

Posted by Nora Lopez

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Nora Lopez is the recently-retired TRI Coordinator for Region 2. She has decades of years of experience overseeing TRI reporting, auditing, and trouble-shooting with the Environmental Protection Agency. ERA Environmental Management Solutions has partnered with Nora for TRI Month to deliver expert insights and tips for TRI reporters and EHS Professionals like yourself. Nora’s opinions are based on her own experiences and she is not an official spokesperson for the EPA. Have a question for Nora? Email [email protected].

Today I am here to dispel a common, yet risky myth in the environmental reporting world – that the EPA would rather have you over-report than under-report your emissions on your Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) report. I can tell you firsthand that this is definitely not the case.

Over-reporting emissions as a “safety net” to prevent fines is not a smart idea, not only for your own business, but also your entire industry. I’m going to outline just a few ways that over-reporting puts you at risk, and shed some light on common TRI misconceptions along the way.

Myth: If I Over-Report, I Won’t Get Penalized.

This myth is the biggest misconception. Some manufacturers may have felt it was easier and maybe cheaper to over report than to accurately calculate emissions. Perhaps, after seeing businesses fined for not fully reporting their emissions, these reporters begun to overcompensate.

However, EPA has begun to crack down more stringently on manufacturers that over-report. To put it plainly, we know that over-reporting is often thought of as a convenient way of not taking the most detailed records or making sure your calculations are accurate.

These days, if EPA auditors see air emission reporting that has been over-reported, they choose to dig deeper. There is usually an underlying root cause of over-reporting that can result in fines.

There’s only one way to avoid penalties, and that is to report as accurately as possible, following the regulatory requirements. Remember, you certify your submissions that you have provided a reasonable and accurate estimates.

Myth: Over-Reporting Looks Better on a TRI Report than Under-Reporting   

This myth is patently false. The EPA is interested in one thing only: getting accurate emission inventories from reporters. Anything but accurate data based on industry standards or proven monitoring methods is considered non-compliance, regardless of it being an over- or under-estimation. We want accurate environmental reports

I can attest that TRI Coordinators and our staff are trained to be on the lookout for over-reporting, just as we are for under-reporting. We are data experts, and have many other sources of information so we know when emission reports look incorrect and potentially inflated.

For EPA, it’s not just about the quantity that you report, but that you are demonstrating proper record keeping, and accurate analysis of your data to provide a reasonable estimate and monitoring procedures, as required by federal law. If we see numbers that don’t add up, it’s actually evidence of a deeper systemic problem in your compliance management – and that’s what concerns the EPA most.

Myth: Over-Reporting for TRI is Just Easier

This myth probably does the most damage to your business. The truth is, Toxic Release Inventory data is used by the EPA for a number of reasons that can have a direct impact on your industry sector business for years to come. The primary example of this is policy makers reviewing TRI and other air reports to help set the standards for industry MACTs and NESHAPs.

TRI data is used to set EPA’s and States priorities for regulatory development, if your data is over inflated and not accurate then you might be bringing focus on your sector for stricter emission regulations. One of the most common comments EPA gets from industry whenever we would roll out a change to a performance standard is that the updates are too stringent and strict, so you might be part of the reason for this issue.

EPA counts on you to tell them how your industry is doing. If you are over-reporting, you can bet that the next regulatory update facing your enterprise will be a reflection of that inflated dataset. If you think over-reporting this June will make your job as an EHS professional easier, think again. You’re probably setting yourself up for more difficult monitoring years down the road.

The EPA’s goal is to work with industry to protect the environment and encourage sustainable growth of our economy. That can only happen when we all work together to collect, report, analyze, and respond to accurate information about our environmental performance.

I partnered with ERA Environmental Management Solutions to write an eBook for TRI reporters to help them make sure their TRI reports this year are more accurate. I encourage you to download it - it's a free how-to guide with easy to follow steps for an improved TRI report. 

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Topics: TRI