Author Archives: Richard Denison

Of foxes, henhouses and TSCA implementation: The chemical industry burrows into EPA’s toxics office

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

The lead article in this past Sunday’s New York Times is titled “With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’.”  It features several prominent examples of recent political appointments of industry representatives and industry lobbyists to key policy positions where they are now charged with or involved in reviewing or crafting the very same agency regulations and policies that were the focus of their paid private sector work just prior to their appointments.

Add EPA’s implementation of the newly amended Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to the list.

Dr. Nancy Beck has just been appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and reportedly started in that position on Monday, April 17, 2017.  Dr. Beck is moving into her new position at EPA directly from her job as Senior Director, Regulatory Science Policy, Division of Regulatory & Technical Affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a position she has held since January, 2012.  ACC is the main trade association for the chemicals industry, with a membership of more than 150 chemical companies, including such behemoths as BASF, Dow, DuPont and ExxonMobil.

In her new job, Dr. Beck is expected to play a key role in implementing the new reforms made to TSCA, including in critical decisions that EPA will be making literally any day now, many of them driven by firm statutory deadlines.  These decisions will directly affect the financial interests of the companies represented by ACC.  And they will involve deciding whether or not the agency should take positions for which Dr. Beck has advocated on behalf of her former employer, as recently as last month.  Any reasonable person would see a conflict here, one sufficient to seriously question whose interests Dr. Beck will be representing in playing such a role in TSCA implementation.  But as the Times article indicates, this Administration appears to have little concern about the fox guarding the henhouse.

Nor does this situation bode well for the prospect of creating a credible federal system capable of restoring public and market confidence in the safety of chemicals – which was the key reason that such strong bipartisan and stakeholder support gelled behind the major reforms made to TSCA just last June.  Placing a key chemical industry player in a position where she will now have direct and major influence over the direction that reform will take raises serious new doubts about the industry’s claims that it supports providing EPA with stronger, independent authority and resources to vigorously establish the safety of chemicals in and entering commerce.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged , | Leave a comment

Where there’s smoke, there are mirrors: The Trump Administration’s claim to preserve TSCA implementation under its proposed EPA budget is pure illusion

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

As more details emerge about the Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts, it’s becoming clearer that the public’s health could well take one of the worst hits.  Trump has proposed a 31% cut to the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paired with similarly deep reductions in staff.  The details are laid out in a March 21, 2017, internal memo from EPA’s Acting Chief Financial Officer.

Among the biggest cuts are to the Agency’s research, both research it conducts and that undertaken by labs and universities it helps fund.  EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) would see its funding cut nearly in half, from $483 million to $250 million in 2018. The axe would fall across the full spectrum of EPA’s research:  air, climate, and energy; human health risk assessment; safe and sustainable water; sustainable communities; homeland security; and chemical safety.  EPA’s extramural STAR grant program would be entirely eliminated.

Scroll through Attachment A of the memo and you’ll see program after program proposed to be eliminated or slashed.  But there is a notable exception, on p. 9 of the Attachment:  an apparent increase for an item labeled “OCSPP / EPM / Toxic Substances: Chemical Risk Review and Reduction,” accompanied by this explanation:  “This program change increases $13,834K in non-pay resources in support of the new work required under the updated TSCA law.”

On one level, this seems like a bright spot in an otherwise dismal document, though it appears that the increase is in anticipation of the fees that the new TSCA authorizes EPA to collect from industry to help offset up to 25% of program costs.  Still, unlike most of the rest of the Agency, the program’s base budget is proposed to remain essentially intact.

No doubt this reflects the strong bipartisan support that led to last year’s passage of the Lautenberg Act and the continuing need for the chemical industry to be able to point to a viable federal chemical safety program in order to restore public and market confidence and seek to temper state and market action to restrict dangerous chemicals.  (I’ve recently blogged, however, about the mixed signals being sent by the industry; see here and here.)

While this may seem like good news, the notion that EPA could somehow neatly carve out one program area and keep it functioning well when the carving knives are rampantly slashing everything around it is, well, preposterous.   Read More »

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A primer on the new Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and what led to it

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

There is a swirl of activity underway around implementation of the Lautenberg Act, last year’s overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and we’ve been
blogging quite a bit
about those developments.

I’ve taken a step back here from implementation, however, and developed a new “primer” that discusses what led to the new law and describes in some detail the key reforms Lautenberg made to the original TSCA and how the law works.

The primer is intended to serve as an introduction and guide to the new law for those that haven’t been steeped in the details and provides our perspective on the key provisions.  It also discusses those aspects of the new law that may be of particular interest and relevance to the public health community.

For the latest on the state of play on implementation, please keep an eye on our blog.

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged | Comments are closed

Known knowns and known unknowns: Getting an accurate, transparent and up-to-date TSCA chemical inventory

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

A major reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) made by last year’s Lautenberg Act was to set in motion a process to ensure that EPA (and the public, to the maximum extent practicable) know how many and which chemicals are actually in use today, and to ensure that the identities of any active chemicals that are not publicly disclosed constitute actual trade secrets.

In January, EPA took its first step to implement this reform by issuing its proposed rule for Inventory notification.  The public comment period on this proposed rule closed recently.  EDF submitted extensive comments, which are available here.

The Inventory notification requirements of TSCA as amended by the Lautenberg Act, specified under sections 8(b)(4)(A)(i) and 8(b)(4)(B)(ii), have two interlocked purposes:

  1. to ensure EPA has a full and current list of all chemical substances on the TSCA Inventory that are actively being made and processed – paramount to many other aspects of the law, especially the prioritization and risk evaluation provisions of section 6 and, more generally, in providing an up-to-date understanding of the magnitude of chemical production and use within the scope of TSCA relevant to long-term planning and resource allocation; and
  2. to ensure that the only active chemicals not identified by name on the Inventory are those whose identities are actual trade secrets, by requiring reassertion, substantiation and EPA review of any prior confidential business information (CBI) claims a company has made and seeks to retain to protect its chemicals’ identities from public disclosure on the updated Inventory.

Many of EDF’s comments are aimed at ensuring that EPA’s proposed rule serves both purposes and is fully in compliance with the law.  In contrast, many comments received from industry interests would pit the first objective against the second and do so in ways that would not comply with what the law requires.   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Getting the framework right for the new TSCA: EDF comments filed on key EPA proposed rules

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.  Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.  Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed extensive comments yesterday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposals for the two most central “framework” rules mandated by last year’s Lautenberg Act amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Our comments address these proposed rules:

Both sets of comments address many different provisions of the proposed rules.  EDF indicated our strong support for many aspects of the proposals, but urged changes to a number of provisions that we cannot support as proposed.  In addition, we identified provisions we believe need to be added to EPA’s rules to be consistent with or meet the requirements of the Lautenberg Act.

EDF emphasized how vital it is for EPA to meet its June 22, 2017, statutory deadline for promulgating these rules.  Because they establish processes that will require several years to begin to yield decisions on specific chemicals, delays in promulgating them in final form so that the processes can commence in the timeframe Congress intended will only serve to undermine public confidence in the new law, counter business interests to restore confidence in the chemicals marketplace, and hamper EPA’s ability to carry out its new mandates.  This is especially the case, given EPA’s appropriate recognition in both proposed rules that it will need to initiate measures as soon as possible to ensure that sufficient information will be available to inform prioritization and risk evaluation decisions.

As discussed in more detail in the comments, EDF strongly supports EPA’s decision not to codify specific scientific policies, procedures and guidance in these rules.  To do so would not be consistent with the law and would more generally represent bad policy.  EDF also agreed with EPA’s proposal not to define in its rules complex, science policy-laden terms such as “weight of the scientific evidence,” “best available science,” and “unreasonable risk.”  These concepts are best elaborated on in guidance and policy statements and best understood in the context of specific decisions on chemical substances.

Some other highlights from each set of EDF’s comments follow.   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Regulation, TSCA Reform| Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Congress just fixed TSCA – yet is now gearing up to re-impose the worst flaws of the old law across the entire Federal government

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

I noted in a recent post EDF’s grave concerns about the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which passed the House on January 11.  A shorter but still very concerning version of it may soon be introduced in the Senate, modeled on last Congress’ Senate version of RAA.  This bill would add dozens of burdensome and time-consuming hurdles to the rulemaking process, effectively crippling it and eliminating the health and safety protections rules are intended to provide.  To get a feel for all of the requirements, see this dizzying RAA flow chart.

Among other things, the RAA would mandate multiple rounds of cost and impact analysis of a potentially unlimited number of regulatory alternatives; require that all major rules go through an entirely new pre-proposal step, adding months if not longer to the rulemaking process; generally require that agencies choose the lowest-cost regulatory option, regardless of whether or not it is the best option or even sufficient to meet a law’s requirements; and require lengthy and resource-intensive public hearings on many rules.  To top all this off, the bill would require an agency to finalize a proposed rule within 2 years (subject to a 1-year extension) – 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.

There is extreme irony in the advancement of the RAA in this Congress:  Just last June, both houses of Congress passed – with overwhelming bipartisan support – major reforms to the obsolete Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The Lautenberg Act removed from the original TSCA several major constraints on the rulemaking process that had so tied the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it could not even restrict asbestos, a known carcinogen that kills more than 10,000 Americans every year.  There was widespread agreement among industry and other stakeholders that those provisions of the old TSCA were detrimental or unnecessary to an efficient regulatory system and were undermining public and market confidence in the federal chemical safety system – not to mention failing to protect public health.

So here’s the irony:  The RAA would impose those same knot-tying strictures that the Lautenberg Act just got rid of – and expand them to rulemakings undertaken by any federal agency.  Let’s look at some of these crippling requirements, based on last Congress’s Senate version of the RAA:   Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Tagged , | Comments are closed
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