EDF Health

Selected tag(s): FOIA

EDF files comments on two EPA proposals affecting EPA’s and the public’s access to chemical information under TSCA

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

Yesterday Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed comments on two EPA proposals (here and here) that will have major impacts on what chemical information EPA obtains and the public has access to.  While EPA risk evaluations and risk management actions (such as they are) often garner the lion’s share of stakeholder attention, the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) also made sweeping changes to EPA’s authority and duty to obtain better information on chemical uses, hazards and exposures, and to rein in rampant industry claims aimed at keeping much of that information hidden from public view.

As readers of this blog know, the extent of chemical information available to the agency and disclosed to the public has been a major point of controversy under the Trump EPA.  Three years after passage of the reforms to TSCA, EPA has yet to use its expanded information authorities even once, despite major data gaps for the chemicals it is prioritizing and evaluating.  In some cases, EPA has asked companies to voluntarily submit information without any safeguards against selective reporting.  EPA has then sought to deny public access even to submitted health and safety studies, arguing they are confidential despite TSCA’s clear prohibition on protecting such information from public disclosure; see here and here.

So EPA proposals that directly affect both what information is submitted to EPA and public access to it warrant serious scrutiny.  I’ll describe both proposals below, but as a preview I first want to highlight some of the key themes detailed in EDF’s comments:

  • EPA continues to resist acknowledging that the 2016 TSCA reforms changed the substantive standard governing confidentiality by imposing new requirements on top of those EPA has relied on in the past in regulations it promulgated pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In both proposals, EPA must acknowledge the change and incorporate all of the law’s new requirements, which Congress enacted to place new limits on what information is eligible for protection from public disclosure.
  • In one of its proposals, EPA has proposed welcome changes that appear intended to make EPA’s review of confidentiality claims more efficient, by clarifying what companies can and cannot claim as confidential and what substantiation they need to provide to support their claims. However, it falls short of that goal and omits several key provisions that must be incorporated when the proposal is finalized.
  • The other proposal is far less robust and would continue to rely on obsolete regulatory provisions that do not reflect the law’s new requirements. As a result, it is also wholly inconsistent with the first proposal even with respect to the analogous procedures for claim assertion, substantiation and EPA review.
  • In the name of burden reduction, EPA has proposed to continue existing exemptions from chemical information reporting, and to add major new exemptions. If finalized, these exemptions will negatively impact EPA’s access to information on chemicals’ conditions of use, releases and potential exposures that it needs to carry out its duties under reformed TSCA.  The consequences of EPA’s failure to obtain robust information on chemicals it is reviewing were amply demonstrated in critical comments ($) the agency received at last week’s meeting of EPA’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC) held to peer review EPA’s first draft risk evaluation under TSCA.

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