US senators seek end to delay on EPA chemicals list

13 September 2011 23:43  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A proposed list of “chemicals of concern” from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been awaiting White House approval for more than a year, and two US senators are asking the Obama administration to end the delay, according to correspondence released by the senators’ offices on Tuesday.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat-Rhode Island) complained in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that the White House has had the proposed EPA rule under review for nearly 500 days and has delayed action on the matter too long.

“[The] EPA sent the proposed rule to [the OMB] for review on 12 May 2010, nearly 500 days ago and well beyond the 90 days authorised for review,” the two senators said.

The White House OMB must give final approval to all administration proposed rules, regulations and policies.

The administration’s long delay on the EPA’s proposed rule has come under new scrutiny in the wake of President Barack Obama’s decision earlier this month to quash a separate EPA proposal that would have tightened ozone emissions standards nationwide.

That proposed ozone rule was broadly opposed by a wide spectrum of industry, who warned that the regulation essentially would bring industrial and production operations to a screeching halt, idling hundreds of thousands of workers, possibly many more.

Obama said he was directing the EPA to withdraw the proposed ozone rule in order to reduce regulatory burdens and uncertainty on business at a time when the national economy is struggling to recover.

That action raised an outcry from environmental groups, which accused the White House of caving in to industry pressure and abandoning election campaign promises to accelerate environmental issues.

“It is important that [the] EPA is allowed to fully utilise its current authorities under TSCA to provide the public with information on chemicals that might pose unreasonable risk,” the senators said in their letter to the OMB, referring to the Toxic Substances Control Act.

“The agency should be permitted to take the modest step of signalling its concern about these chemicals to the public and the market,” they added, urging the OMB to wrap-up its review of the EPA proposal.

In December 2009, the EPA proposed a list of “chemicals of concern” to inform the public about substances that pose a risk to human health. 

Although the chemicals on the proposed list have not been officially named, they are believed to include phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), long-chain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs).

They are used variously as softening agents in plastics, flame retardants, coatings and packaging, among other applications.

The US chemicals industry has been critical of the proposed listing, warning that even though it would simply identify chemicals of “concern”, publication of the rule would trigger needless fears, broad commercial disruption and product de-selection.

“While we support [the] EPA exercising its authority under TSCA", said American Chemistry Council (ACC) spokesman Scott Jensen, “we believe the agency should prioritise chemicals based on scientific criteria that reflect available hazard, use and exposure information.”

Jensen said that “creating an arbitrary list is not appropriate and could lead to confusion in the marketplace”.

OMB spokeswoman Meg Riley said that as a matter of policy the office does not comment on regulations under review.

However, she said, “it is not uncommon for review periods to be extended for regulatory actions that require additional time for consideration of public comment and analysis by OMB and all affected agencies”.

She said she could not say when the review of the EPA’s proposed list of chemicals of concern might be concluded.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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