Democrats Who Backed Chemical Law’s Reform Question EPA Pivot

By Pat Rizzuto

Six Democratic senators who backed Congress’ overhaul of the nation’s primary chemicals law want EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to clarify the agency’s decision to narrow its oversight of new chemicals.

“We write now to raise our serious concerns about EPA’s intentions,” the senators wrote in a July 24 letter spearheaded by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

The Environmental Protection Agency didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Environment’s request for a response.

As first reported by Bloomberg Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency planned to speed new chemical reviews, in part, by narrowing the number of chemical uses its staff could review as they decide whether a new chemical can enter commerce. The fewer uses examined, the faster the review, and the greater the possibility that EPA staff would conclude the chemical is safe enough to be made in or imported into the U.S.

Chemical manufacturers along with trade associations and attorneys who represent them complained that the agency’s new chemical reviews are taking so long that U.S. chemical innovation is threatened. The delays began soon after the Toxic Substances Control Act amendments became law in June 2016, they said.

All six senators signing the letter backed the 2016 TSCA amendments.

Letter and Spirit

The EPA, however, began to veer from “both the letter and the spirit of the law” in mid-2017 when it announced another direction for the new chemicals program, they wrote.

The agency’s latest plans would be an “even more sweeping” change that would weaken the TSCA amendments’ intent to better ensure the safety of chemicals already on the market and new chemicals that companies would like to make and sell, the senators wrote.

“EPA needs to balance the competing objective of conducting both timely and robust reviews of new chemicals,” wrote Sens. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Cory A. Booker (N.J.), and Jeff A. Merkley (Ore.).

In a July 17 statement provided after Bloomberg Environment first wrote about the its plans, the agency said: “Any changes made by EPA will be consistent with the statute, ensure that any appropriate testing is identified (when necessary), and of course ensure that we are protecting public health and the environment while allowing for technological innovation in the chemicals sector.”