EPA Delays Some of TSCA’s Restrictions
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under its new administrator Scott Pruitt has made another surprise announcement overturning a consensus found before he took office.
In its latest pronouncement, the EPA said this week it planned to “indefinitely” postpone a phase-out of certain uses of three toxic consumer chemicals. It now sees a ban on the solvents tricholorethylene (TCE) in dry cleaning and degreasing applications and methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP in paint strippers as “long-term actions’’ without a firm deadline.
All three phase-outs were proposed in December 2016 or January 2017 and were the first to be introduced under the newly revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA) in more than 25 years. They were foreseen to be finalized within months, before the Trump administration removed them from the table. Reports said producers’ organizations had asked the EPA to reassess its earlier conclusions.
In continuing to defang new rules established under the administration of former president, Barack Obama, Pruitt – who was appointed by the current president, Donald Trump – has said repeatedly said his goal is to curb unnecessary regulatory burdens that stifle economic growth.
Pruitt’s announcement came as the EPA continued to review the risks associated with certain substances under the updated TCSA that now goes by the name Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The act was named after the late New Jersey senator, a long-time advocate for overhauling the loophole-ridden, who died in 2015.
Under the revised rules, the EPA gained the authority to require new testing and regulation of thousands of chemicals used in everyday products
Updating the act initially enjoyed strong support from both political parties in both houses of the US Congress as well as in principle from the chemical industry, which had sought clarity. The industry and environmental groups were not always on the same page as concerned individual substances, however. Differences of opinion have led to legal squabbles in certain cases.
Environmental advocates and some chemical producers had already decried the lengthy timetable for the substance review, in particular that the environmental agency was given seven years to test a batch of 20 chemicals. However, observers commenting on this week’s decision noted that the compromise legislation expressly allowed faster action on high-risk uses of methylene chloride, NMP and TCE.
In 2013, the EPA itself had declared TCE to be “carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure,” saying it had been shown to cause developmental and reproductive damage, while methylene chloride was found to be toxic to the brain and liver and NMP to have the potential to disturb the reproductive system.
Commenting on the agency’s latest move, Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware and the ranking minority member on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, said Pruitt is “blatantly ignoring Congress’s clear directive to the agency to better protect the health and safety of millions of Americans.”
Richard Denison, lead senior scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, said the administration’s latest agenda shows that “instead of using their expanded authorities under this new law, the EPA is shoving health protections from highly toxic chemicals to the very back of the back burner.”