NGOs are cautiously optimistic for the year ahead, saying the Democrats’ control of the US House of Representatives will allow for more oversight of the EPA’s activities.
In several interviews with Chemical Watch, environmental advocacy groups said that TSCA implementation has been swayed in industry’s favour since the Trump administration began in January 2017 and the Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress.
But, following the midterm elections, power in the House has changed hands, meaning that the Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) will have the chance to monitor and inquire into the EPA’s activities.
“I think that there are some tremendous opportunities in the House of Representatives for oversight over the agency,” said Liz Hitchcock, acting director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF). “I think the new leadership of E&C will certainly spend time on [this].”
TSCA implementation concerns
Over the past two years, NGOs have loudly protested how the EPA is implementing changes to TSCA brought about by passage of the 2016 Lautenberg Act.
TSCA implementation has “gone off the rails”, wrote Richard Denison, lead senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in a blogpost this month. The EPA’s current approach is not what was intended or required by Congress’ 2016 compromise, he added.
But the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Daniel Rosenberg said that political shifts could help change the course: “It’s valuable to have members of Congress in the majority who share our views on how to interpret the law and who don’t prioritise protecting whatever anti-regulatory and anti-science agenda that the chemical industry is pushing.”
Whether new toxics office head Alexandra Dunn will have a bearing on the way chemicals are reviewed is also an open question, added Mr Rosenberg. Ms Dunn, who was unanimously confirmed in the last Congress, said at her nomination hearing that she was committed to bringing TSCA to “full effect”.
Mr Rosenberg pointed out, however, that it remains to be seen if her ideas of implementation align with those of the environmental NGO community.
Meanwhile, Ms Hitchcock and others expressed concern over what information is being reviewed in the reformed law’s first ten risk assessments, which are due to be finalised by December.
For instance, she said, the draft risk evaluation for pigment violet 29 excluded certain forms of land, water and air discharge from its exposure calculations, which SCHF believes led to artificially low conclusions of the substance’s risk.
And SCHF is concerned that the narrowed scope of these early draft evaluations will set a precedent that will be carried into the next 20 high-priority chemicals, which will be assessed beginning in 2020.
Mr Rosenberg and Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), largely concur with Ms Hitchcock.
“It’s time for Congress to stop the Trump team from ‘cooking the books’ to underestimate the threat posed by chemicals,” said Mr Faber.
Chemicals of concern
The NGO community is also focused on specific chemicals of concern, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and paint strippers containing methylene chloride. The EPA has delayed finalising a rule restricting the use of the latter, prompting public health advocates to file a lawsuit against the agency.
However, despite concerns with the trajectory of the EPA under the Trump administration, Mr Rosenberg retains some optimism: “The tide of support for policies that protect the public will continue to rise in 2019 and into 2020 as well.”