No, chemical industry, you can’t have your cake and eat it too (Part 2)

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

[Part 1 here]

We have been watching with growing alarm the rapidly unfolding efforts by leadership in Congress and the Trump Administration to gut health and safety protections that provide millions of Americans with clean air, water and safe products.  Support by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) for such efforts, detailed below, gives us profound worry and deep frustration given the trade association’s support of major reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act last year.

Many of ACC’s member companies worked for many years to move the industry towards strong federal legislation that can restore public and market confidence in the safety of their products.  Many of these companies have also been embracing sustainability commitments, and have acknowledged that a strong federal chemicals management system is critical for charting the path to a safer more sustainable future.  Those companies with a real commitment to safer chemicals and sustainability should be very alarmed that their trade association has endorsed legislation and the Trump Administration’s deregulatory executive order that would profoundly limit EPA’s and the rest of the Federal government’s ability to protect human health and the environment.

These actions by the executive and legislative branches will or would severely constrain EPA from acting to address chemical risks under the Lautenberg Act as well as other federal laws that protect our air, water, land, workplaces, schools and homes.

Here are the specifics:  

  • On January 30, President Trump signed an executive order that would require, among other things, all federal agencies to repeal two regulations for every new one they issue and require that any costs (“private expenditures”) of a new regulation are fully offset by cost “savings” from such repealed rules. Benefits, including public benefits, appear to be excluded.
    • ACC immediately expressed its support for the executive order, even featuring its support prominently as its “top story” in the next day’s ACC SmartBrief.
  • On January 5, the House of Representatives passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. The same bill has been introduced in the Senate.  This bill would, among other things, require all new major regulations to be approved by vote in both chambers of Congress.  If either chamber did not approve any covered rule within 70 legislative days, the rule could not go into effect or be put forward for another approval vote in that Congress. This effectively gives one chamber of Congress veto power over any new significant public health and safety protection. The bill would subvert the traditional balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government.  House Republicans added amendments requiring costs of any new regulation to be offset through repeal of existing regulations, and mandating that over the next ten years all pre-existing regulations be considered under the REINS Act and require an affirmative vote by both chambers to continue in effect.  The REINS Act would apply even to rules mandated by law, which could extend to those in progress under the Lautenberg Act as well as any rules EPA develops using its authority under the new TSCA.
  • On January 11, the House passed the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA). This bill would add more than 80 burdensome and time-consuming hurdles to the rulemaking process, effectively crippling it.  Among other things, it would mandate multiple rounds of cost and impact analysis; require that every major rule go through an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking before being proposed; generally require that agencies choose the lowest-cost regulatory option; and require extensive public hearings on rules.  To top all this off, the bill would require EPA to finalize a proposed rule within 9 months (18 months for major rules) – a timeframe almost impossible to meet now without all of the additional requirements the Act would impose); if that deadline was not met, the agency would have to start over.  (A Senate version of RAA in the last Congress had a slightly less stringent deadline.)
    • ACC issued a press release a week before the vote praising the legislation and urging its prompt passage bill by the House. Among many problems with RAA, the requirements that EPA generally choose the “least cost” regulatory option, and allow any party to request a formal public hearing, on many or most regulations are paralyzing mandates that were just removed from TSCA by passage of the Lautenberg Act, but would be re-imposed should RAA pass.  So it is ironic that ACC now supports applying these requirements to TSCA as well as many other federal regulations, only months after acknowledging they were detrimental or unnecessary to an efficient regulatory system.
  • Members of Congress are expected to reintroduce the Secret Science Reform Act, which was proposed in both the House and the Senate in the last Congress. This bill would require that all underlying data from any study on which EPA relied to support an action would have to be posted online and the results be able to be reproduced.  While that sounds nice, the measure would have a crippling effect because, for a host of reasons, all details of studies cannot be made public.  For example, large-scale, long-term epidemiological and other studies are not readily reproducible, some industry data are confidential, and certain data underlying some scientifically-important studies cannot be made broadly available in order to protect the privacy of test subjects or intellectual property of researchers.  This legislation has been opposed by dozens of scientific associations and universities; see here and here for examples.
  • Members of Congress are expected to reintroduce the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, which was proposed in both the House and the Senate in the last Congress. This bill would revise the process for selecting members of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific advice to the EPA, so as to limit university and other government-funded scientists on the SAB and at the same time make it easier for industry-employed and industry-funded scientists to serve. It would also add burdensome requirements on the SAB, for example requiring it to formally respond to every comment it received, to such an extent that the SAB could be unable to carry out its mandate.
    • ACC has endorsed this legislation repeatedly in the past; see for example, here and here.

 

EDF has long strived to work with both political parties and with the private sector to find common ground and advocate for workable solutions to health and environmental problems that are also economically sustainable.  But the current Administration’s and Congress’ efforts to gut health and environmental protections are extreme and present a significant threat to Americans.  These efforts will severely undercut our ability to make progress towards a sustainable future.  To no small extent, it has been that shared vision of a safer, more sustainable future that has provided common ground upon which we came together to build an improved chemical safety system.

Companies in this industry and those that rely on its products have a choice to make:  Stick with their Washington lawyers and trade associations, and further erode the limited trust anyone has in their enterprises, or build on earlier efforts to restore public trust and move toward a more sustainable future.  The stakes are high and we are watching.

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