EPA Gets Earful at Listening Session on Toxics Rule Changes

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By Tiffany Stecker and Sam Pearson

Yolanda Ferguson and her family drove 1,000 miles from Mississippi’s Gulf Coast to plead for EPA not to roll back the nation’s chemicals law.

Ferguson is the wife of a netmaker, who she said became sick from exposure to corexit, a chemical dispersant used for the cleanup of the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill. He can no longer work to make and repair the trawls for commercial fishing boats because of his illness, Ferguson said. His weight plummeted from 260 pounds to 120 pounds. He shakes uncontrollably and urinates blood.

When she sought more information on the dispersant, Ferguson said she was told it was confidential business information. With money raised from collecting cans, she came to Washington, D.C., to speak at the EPA’s listening session on regulatory reform, in which members of the public can weigh in on President Donald Trump’s executive order to reverse regulations.

The agency’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics held a hearing May 1 on last year’s reforms of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Toxic Release Inventory, and rules on formaldehyde, asbestos and nanoscale materials.

“I’m concerned they are going to change that up and make it all toxic again,” Ferguson told approximately 50 people at the session, with many more listening remotely. “I want them to not take the Lautenberg Act away,” she later told Bloomberg BNA.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Pub. L. No. 114-182) amended the 1976 TSCA to require the EPA to screen new chemicals and evaluate the safety of existing chemicals on the market. It also makes it harder for companies to hide chemical information that may be considered confidential.

Ferguson, a short, fast-talking Southerner, came with her 17-year-old daughter, who had blue hair and wore a Batman shirt. The two represented a rare show of private citizens among the list of industry and environmental group representatives slated to speak at the session.

Pruitt ‘Like Steinbrenner in Charge of the Red Sox’

President Trump’s Executive Order 1377, requires each agency to create a Regulatory Reform Task Force to evaluate existing regulations.

Some speakers questioned the exercise of collecting comments to remove rulemakings, rather than adding them. Others criticized the appointment of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the agency numerous times before heading it.

Pruitt at the EPA “is like putting George Steinbrenner and his minions in charge of the Boston Red Sox,” said Daniel Rosenberg, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a reference to the late New York Yankees baseball team owner and the rivalry with the Boston baseball team.

Industry representatives were supportive, but cautious in encouraging the EPA’s continued work on regulations.

“Please keep this moving forward, we all support it,” said Jim Cooper, a senior petrochemical adviser for the American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers. “But do it right.”

“Things have to be done right so we don’t have to revisit them five years from now,” he added, citing a negotiated rulemaking on inorganic byproducts that EPA announced in Dec. 2016. The new rule has to encourage recycling of chemicals, he said.

Nanochemicals, Formaldehyde at Forefront

President Barack Obama’s administration rushed in several final rules concerning chemicals, including one Dec. 12, 2016, to lower formaldehyde emissions in composite wood. The push also involved a Jan. 12 rule requiring companies to report nanochemicals for the first time.

Several trade associations balked at the strain the nanomaterials rule (RIN:2070-AJ54) would impose on manufacturers, with Raleigh Davis of the the American Coatings Associations citing a $1.5 million price tag for industry. The rule is set to go into effect on May 12, although makers of the miniscule materials have pushed for a delay. Nanotechnology is prized for its industrial and biomedical applications, but those chemicals have raised concerns because they are more readily absorbed by the human body.

The EPA underestimated the burden for companies when it assumed it would take 175 hours to gather information for reporting on nanomaterials, said Irene Hantman, a chemicals attorney at Verdant Law PLLC in Washington, D.C., told the EPA.

The effective date for EPA’s rule on formaldehyde emissions (RIN:2070-AJ44) has been delayed until May 22. It is similar to a California Air Resources Board regulation that has been on the books since 2008. But unlike the California rule, it does not exempt all makers of laminated wood products. Some laminated wood includes glue with high concentrations of formaldehyde, which raises emissions. These manufacturers have seven years to meet the emissions limits.

Niche corners of the construction industry said that the rule would create ripple effects. Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association CEO Betsy Natz said it would force cabinet distributors to recall products if the manufacturer failed to pass the emissions tests, a move that could harm a company’s reputation, trigger litigation and cause disruptions in the supply chain.

“It makes no sense to apply it to finished goods,” she said.

But Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said a delay was inappropriate for such a new regulation.

“Let’s not take our time to get this rule implemented,” he said.

Lead Program at Risk

Construction contractors, training companies and public health groups also weighed in on EPA’s lead renovation, repair and painting rule. Under Trump’s budget request, the EPA would eliminate its lead risk reduction program, cut $2.3 million from the Office of Children’s Health Protection and more than $82 million in cuts to research at the Office of Research and Development.

EPA issued the lead renovation regulation in 2008 and amended it six times since. The rule requires contractors to be trained in lead abatement requirements and have the training renewed every five years.

Zachary Rose, the CEO and founder of Zack Academy, said contractors who take lead certification courses sometimes balk at first but often find them valuable. He said changing the requirement that they complete courses would be an “absolute disaster” for families and homeowners.

Brian McCracken, the president of All American Painting Plus Inc. in Reston, Va., said training companies were protecting “their own self interests.”

Lead exposure is “not our problem,” McCracken said. “It’s a personal responsibility for the homeowner. When you buy a home, you need to know the hazards of it.”

Neltner called on the agency to toughen its lead regulations, not relax them.

Several participants also asked the EPA not to clamp down on the 1986 Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which requires local education agencies to makes detailed asbestos emergency plans to prevent children’s exposure to the mineral.

Cutting certification requirements would only hinder efforts to remove absestos in old buildings, said Stephanie Isaacson, a businesswoman who owns properties with asbestos.

“If we take away the need to inspect,” she said, “it doesn’t make any sense, especially since it doesn’t create jobs to take it away.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington, D.C. at tstecker@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

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