Lena Pons on CPRBlog {Bio}
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EPA Should Move Forward on Naming Priority Chemicals

EPA’s chemical management efforts have been under attack on every front. Chemical safety was one of Lisa Jackson’s priorities from her first day as EPA administrator. But during her tenure, efforts to improve chemicals policy at the agency have been met with fierce resistance. One recent attack was on EPA’s efforts to identify priority chemicals for risk assessment and risk management. 

Jackson has already tried one strategy to beef up the agency’s response to hazardous chemicals through the Chemical Action Plans. The plans quickly became a target for chemical industry groups, and in August, EPA announced that it was scrapping the program, and published a discussion guide for a new approach to prioritizing chemicals for risk assessment and potential regulation. EPA recently hosted a public discussion blog on principles for identifying priority chemicals for review and assessment. 

Despite the reset, EPA’s discussion guide covers mostly familiar territory on toxics. EPA’s proposed two-step process would draw from existing sources of chemical hazard and exposure data, including EPA’s beleaguered Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS); the Toxics Release Inventory’s Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic rule; the International Agency for Research on Cancer; and the National Toxicology Program, and then produce a “first pass” list of chemicals to target for additional risk assessment or risk management action. Then once it produces a list, it will seek additional information to determine which of these chemicals should be prioritized for further risk assessment and potential regulation.

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White House Review of "Chemicals of Concern" List A Full Year Past Due

In May 2010, EPA sent a draft “Chemicals of Concern” list, including bisphenol A (BPA) and five other chemicals, to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. The proposed list would be the first time EPA has used its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to publish such a list of chemicals that “may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” Today marks one year since OIRA exceeded the 120-day deadline for completing its review of EPA’s proposed chemicals of concern list.

The proposed list has met with fierce industry resistance, even though being added to the list only requires some minor additional reporting requirements.  Between Jun. 2010 and Jan. 2011, OIRA hosted eight meetings to discuss the proposed list. Of those meetings, seven were with industry groups and trade associations including ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, the American Chemistry Council, and the Society of the Plastics Industry. One meeting was with public health and environmental advocacy groups including the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Listing carries no regulatory action. Manufacturers are required to comply with some additional reporting requirements, but only if EPA conducts additional rulemaking.

Industry groups object to chemicals being listed because they say the substances might obtain a stigma. But considering the chemicals on the list – BPA, phthalates, and flame retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – many of these already have a stigma because they have for years been linked with harmful health effects. Ultimately, stigma is not a strong argument, and attaching stigma to these chemicals is at least part of the point. EPA has a responsibility to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals, but its legal authority to regulate and reduce exposures to chemicals is weak under TSCA. The next best thing the agency can do is inform the public, and encourage companies to seek less dangerous alternatives.  

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Regulatory Plans Show Agencies at Risk of Failing to Finish Numerous Critical Rules During President Obama's First Term

In April, CPR released a paper that looked at 12 critical rulemaking activities that we urged the Obama administration to finish by June 2012. The new regulatory agendas released by the agencies earlier this month show that instead of moving forward, the agencies are often slowing down.  Contrary to the “tsunami” of regulations that the Chamber of Commerce claims is hampering economic recovery, this is a molasses flow that will delay life-saving public protections for workers, air breathers and water drinkers. 

One rule that was on track in April is now definitely off track: an update to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter. Another rule that was on track is now probably off track: the Power Plant New Source Performance Standards for limiting greenhouse gases were pushed back from May 2012 to Jun 2012, which is the deadline we identified to complete rules in Obama’s first term (after that point, re-election politics will likely stifle any continued efforts to finish important rulemakings, and, in any event, rules completed after that point risk being overturned under the Congressional Review Act if Republicans are able to win both houses of Congress and the White House in the 2012 elections).

 All or parts of eight of the rulemaking activities highlighted in the paper have been severely delayed since the paper was released in April:

  • EPA’s Boiler MACT Rule, which would save up to 6,600 lives, avoid 4,000 heart attacks, and prevent 46,000 cases of aggravated asthma. In the paper, we anticipated that the EPA would complete the rule sometime in August of 2011. (The agency issued a final rule in March, but immediately initiated a reconsideration process, which under the Clean Air Act, would have to be completed no later than August.) Instead, the EPA surprised (and disappointed) many by reconsidering the rule under the Administrative Procedure Act, eventually giving itself until April of 2012 to complete it. While technically on track, this 10-month delay will still have disastrous consequences for public health and the environment, including up to 5,500 premature deaths and up to 3,300 non-fatal heart attacks.
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Some Pleasant Surprises in Agency Regulatory Plans

Last week, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget released the semiannual regulatory agenda. I pointed out that the agenda, which contains the regulatory agencies’ planned actions, was quite late. Although the plans share problems from past years, like simply pushing back the target dates for regulatory actions, there are some pleasant surprises. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is moving forward with some proactive regulatory responses to the Toyota recalls of 2009, and the EPA plans to propose or finalize updates to National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) for 30 sources. Here’s an overview of some highlights (not covering everything) from the regulatory plans. More information about each individual rulemaking can be found by following the links.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  • OSHA has eight occupational standards working through the arduous pre-rule stage of rulemaking. These include updates to standards for occupational exposure to beryllium, blood-borne pathogens, combustible dust, and infectious diseases. OSHA is also planning an occupational exposure standard for diacetyl. OSHA is also working on standards to prevent workers from being run over by vehicles in reverse, the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2), and upgraded standards to protect workers installing reinforced concrete.
  • OSHA will propose a standard to reduce the allowable occupational exposure to silica dust. The regulatory plans say the agency planned to publish the proposed rule in June, but the proposed rule is currently under OIRA review (and has been in violation of Executive Order 12,866’s limit of 120 days to review the rule since Jun. 14, 2011).
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Looking Back, But How Much Looking Ahead? Agencies Release Regulatory Agendas Months Late

The Administration has been busy promoting President Obama’s new approach to regulatory review, which required federal regulatory agencies to produce plans for how they would review existing regulations and look for regulations to cut. But while the mad dash to find regulations the administration can trot out as misguided or outdated continued, the agencies were delayed in releasing plans about what they want to do proactively to protect workers, children, and the environment.

As our friend Celeste Monforton over at The Pump Handle pointed out a couple of weeks ago, advocates have been waiting on these plans for quite some time. The Regulatory Flexibility Act requires agencies to submit the agendas each April and October. Monforton said OMB told her to expect the plans in early July. And so the new agenda was published today.

The agencies’ regulatory plans give advocates, business, and everyone else a window into the agencies’ work, and help groups plan in advance for how to respond to upcoming rules. But the most recent public regulatory plans are from December 2010. That plan was also late, and previous ones have been, too. They’re not usually this late, though. Spring plans have been released in late April or early May for the last six years. Fall plans have been released in November and December over the same period.

The agencies are being asked to do more (including the look-backs) with the same (or less). In January, Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said the Administration did not plan to seek a new appropriation for the agencies to conduct the look-back work. Pressed on the issue by the Huffington Post, he simply said that he "can't think of anything that's not been done because of the review."

We’ll have an analysis of the agencies’ plans soon. President Obama’s 21st century regulatory program ought to move us to the future, not have us living in the past.

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New CPR White Paper Tackles Industry Myths About BPA

For the last two decades, scientists have amassed evidence that bisphenol A (BPA) poses a threat to human health. BPA is a chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastic, can liners for food and beverages, and thermal paper used for register receipts. It is used in so many applications that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found traces of BPA in 93 percent of people it tested. Although scientists have targeted BPA as a public health concern, plastics industry lobbyists have attempted to thwart the efforts of federal, state, and local authorities to reduce exposure to BPA.

The industry arguments can confuse the public because the way BPA acts on the body is counter-intuitive. Contrary to the old toxicology axiom that “the dose makes the poison,” smaller amounts of BPA are linked to a host of negative health effects. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, a chemical that interferes with the body’s system of hormones. The endocrine system is very sensitive, so just a small amount of BPA at the wrong time can have major health consequences. That’s why scientists and parents alike are so concerned about BPA.

Infants and small children are the most vulnerable, and they are also the most highly exposed to BPA. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) should coordinate their efforts to regulate BPA. And Congress should improve the federal approach to toxics regulation by affirmatively empowering agencies like the EPA, FDA, CPSC and OSHA to regulate endocrine-disrupting compounds.

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New CPR White Paper Proposes 47 Priority Chemicals for EPA's IRIS Toxic Chemical Database

In October, EPA requested nominations for substances that it should evaluate under the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Today CPR releases Setting Priorities for IRIS: 47 Chemicals that Should Move to the Head of the Risk-Assessment Line -- a paper that we've submitted to EPA as our nominations for priority chemicals.

Following up on our recent IRIS reform white paper, which made recommendations for how to improve the IRIS process and complete more reviews of basic toxicology information, CPR has completed additional research into how EPA sets priorities for IRIS assessments. The paper was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor, Policy Analyst Matt Shudtz, and myself.

We found 253 chemicals that have been identified by EPA regulatory program offices that are missing key IRIS information. From this list, we named 47 that we believe need to be the highest-priority, based on the air toxics, drinking water, and Superfund program offices’ most pressing needs. EPA is currently working on assessments for 17 of these substances.

Regulatory decisions under the Clean Air Act, Superfund, and Safe Drinking Water Act are all dependent on risk assessments which rely on the numerical toxicology data contained in the IRIS database. Delaying these assessments requires EPA program offices to rely on less rigorous estimates of the risks associated with toxic substances. This can negatively impact regulatory decisions -- how can you properly protect the public from exposure to chemicals if you haven't first adequately assessed the health effects of those chemicals?

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Procedural Maze Continues for Vehicle Efficiency Regulation

Update: EPA and NHTSA have issued the Supplemental Notice of Intent.

The regulatory process is often complex: agencies must balance opportunities for public comment, complex scientific information, and economic analysis, all while trying to craft a program that fulfills a legal mandate. But when it comes to crafting proposals for vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, the process has become an administrative nightmare.

In May, President Obama announced plans for the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to propose fuel economy standards for 2017-2025. Last week, EPA and NHTSA sent a supplemental notice of intent to propose fuel economy standards to OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. OIRA has 90 days to review the document, but it is expected to be released  in the coming weeks.

The document is the third official statement of policy to come from the Obama administration in advance of a proposed rule for light duty (cars, minivans, SUVs, pickup trucks) vehicle efficiency standards expected in September 2011. EPA says the document, not publicly available, promises to make incremental steps toward proposing standards, including “narrow[ing] the range of potential stringencies” for the upcoming proposed regulation.

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CPR White Paper Identifies Hundreds of Toxic Chemicals Insufficiently Studied by EPA

A new CPR white paper released today evaluates EPA’s performance in improving its database of human health information on toxic substances. The Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) contains “profiles” with bottom-line health effects information for 540 substances; federal regulators, as well as state and local governments and regulated industry itself, rely on the assessments to make decisions in protecting the public from harm.

In Corrective Lenses for IRIS: Additional Reforms to Improve EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (press release), CPR found that due to procedural changes and attacks from regulated industry and other federal agencies, the information in IRIS hasn’t kept pace with the needs of EPA’s program offices that regulate toxic substances in the air, water and land. "We found 255 chemicals that Congress or EPA have listed as regulatory targets that are waiting for IRIS profiles." Among the 255 are:

  • Thirty-two hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) regulated under the Clean Air Act are not listed in IRIS at all, and 77 are listed but lack inhalation values, hampering the EPA's ability to conduct residual risk assessments to provide an ample margin of safety.
  • Three of 71 contaminants regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act are not listed, and neither are 64 of the 156 substances nominated to the Contaminate Candidate List, slowing EPA's ability to develop enforceable standards for drinking water contamination.
  • Eighty-seven of the 275 substances frequently found in Superfund sites and identified by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry as "high profile" have not been assessed.

EPA completed nine IRIS assessments in 2009 and is on track to complete nine in 2010, an improvement from the two-per-year pace during the Bush Administration. But at the new rate, it would still take approximately 55 years to complete all of the assessments that EPA program offices need to complete statutory responsibilities.

Our report, by CPR Member Scholars Rena Steinzor and Wendy Wagner, Policy Analyst Matthew Shudtz and myself,  recommends procedural reforms to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete IRIS profiles. We recommend that EPA get rid of unnecessary steps that contribute the most to delay of IRIS assessments – in particular interagency review coordinated by the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. This step provides other federal agencies, which are often potentially subject to eventual regulation, a privileged opportunity to influence and delay EPA’s process for completing public health profiles. EPA can and must work to depoliticize and speed the assessment process.

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Sen. Landrieu's Counterproductive Hold on the Lew Nomination

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) currently has a hold on Jacob Lew’s confirmation to become the next director of the Office of Management and Budget, and says she won't release it until the Obama Administration ends the moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling. She said that while Lew “clearly possesses the expertise necessary to serve…he lacks sufficient concern for the host of economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast.”

Sen. Landrieu seems to be ignoring the impacts of too hastily allowing oil companies to engage in risky drilling operations – something that came sharply into focus when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 rig workers and spilling an estimated two hundred million gallons of oil into the Gulf.  But the impacts of too quickly rushing back into the same inadequate regulatory oversight that contributed to this oil spill don’t seem to factor into Sen. Landrieu’s calculus.  People living on the Gulf Coast are faced with the consequences of the spill’s aftermath – and effects such as stress and depression don’t easily translate into quantifiable dollars and cents.

Sen. Landrieu said Tuesday that "This moratorium is doing almost as much damage and I think more damage than the spill itself." But the predictions of widespread job losses haven't panned out.

The Obama administration wants the hold ended.  After meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Landrieu said she is still firm in her position. In addition to lifting the moratorium on deepwater drilling, Sen. Landrieu would also like to see an acceleration of permits for shallow water drilling in the Gulf.

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