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By Pat Rizzuto
The White House budget blueprint to shrink the EPA proposes cuts to chemical, pesticide and research programs—such as a screening program for hormonally active chemicals—that companies may want to support, an attorney told Bloomberg BNA.
The blueprint would cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by $2.4 billion to a total of $5.7 billion for the agency and cull 3,200 jobs. The document says it would eliminate more than 50 EPA programs but identifies only a few.
Among the few identified cuts would be the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which stems from mandates in the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act and Safe Drinking Water Acts amendments.
The program aims to identify chemicals that have the potential to mimic, block or alter the behavior of estrogen, the female reproductive hormone; androgen, the male reproductive hormone; and the thyroid hormone.
That program received $7.5 million in fiscal year 2016 and relies on basic science conducted by the agency’s Office of Research and Development.
The EPA will release more specifics—including its Congressional Justification of the President’s budget request—in mid-May, an agency spokesman told Bloomberg BNA.
Eliminating that program could be a problem for pesticide and chemical manufacturers, Daniella Taveau, a former trade negotiator with the EPA who now serves as a regulatory and trade specialist for King & Spalding LLP in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA.
The EPA’s tiered program, which begins with quick screens before proceeding to more detailed—and costly—tests, offers the most credible approach internationally, she said.
Without the U.S.’ risk-based model, the hazard-based approach advocated by some European governments, could dominate internationally, Taveau said. Risk approaches are informed by exposure considerations whereas hazard-based approaches just determine if a chemical may be harmful.
The European Union has been deadlocked for years on how to address concerns about endocrine disruptors and the criteria it should use to identify endocrine-disrupting substances.
Denmark, France and Sweden have said pesticide, chemical and other regulations should only take into account a chemical’s potential to affect hormones, and that it should not be necessary to prove a link to harmful effects. Other countries, including Ireland, Poland and the U.K., have said it should be possible to allow the use of endocrine disruptors that present negligible risks.
The budget blueprint would fund EPA’s Office of Research and Development at about $250 million, a reduction of nearly $233 million from its estimated fiscal year 2017 allocation. That means research that supports EPA’s air, chemicals, waste, water and other programs would be cut by nearly half.
Jack Pratt, chemicals campaign director for the Environmental Defense Fund, told Bloomberg BNA “as part of the cartoonishly large cuts to the entire EPA, President Trump’s budget would gut the science underpinning much of the Agency’s work, including the toxics program.”
Cutting the EPA’s research office by half would damage the agency’s effort to implement the bipartisan-backed Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act, last year, Pratt said.
For example, he said the cuts could cripple the Tox21 initiative, a robotic testing program to evaluate the early biological impacts of thousands of chemicals. That program is designed to develop new chemical testing and assessment methods that are faster and cheaper and can reduce animal testing—a goal of the Lautenberg Act that had strong support across all stakeholders, Pratt said.
Second, the cuts could reduce the capacity of the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS program, “which would directly and significantly harm the TSCA office’s ability to conduct timely, robust chemical assessments,” he said.
Trade associations working with chemicals and pesticides were circumspect in comments on the budget blueprint.
“We are committed to working with the administration and Congress to ensure EPA has funding to carry out essential responsibilities, including the implementation of the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, in the most cost-effective manner,” the American Chemistry Council said.
“Ensuring the safe development, use and disposal of chemicals in commerce is a top priority for our industry. We encourage Congress and the Administration to implement a national budget that ensures that the best available science and transparency are at the heart of Agency decision making,” the council said.
And the pesticide industry backs funding for the EPA program as well.
“CropLife America continues to communicate to the new administration and decision makers on the Hill about the importance of sufficiently funding EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs,” that organization said in its statement.
“Our goal is to support the effective regulation of pesticides to protect human health and the environment, and provide a predictable regulatory pathway to bring new and proven chemistries to market,” CropLife said.
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