Friday, November 5, 2010

Post-Election Questions - Will EPA Step Up Action, Step Down Action, or No Changes Ahead?

Now that their has been a change in the majority party in the House (or more accurately, there will be starting when the next Congress takes their seats in January 2011), how will this effect EPA's ongoing rule-making and actions?  While we don't really know the answer to that question yet, there are a few insights we can presume.

First, despite what many suggest, EPA doesn't just get to make up regulations when they feel like it.  They are bound by, and compelled by, laws passed by Congress to regulate the release of chemicals and other environmental issues.  They are required by law to move forward, and are often sued by either - and sometimes both - sides of the issue to act (or not to act).  The recent greenhouse gas (GHG) endangerment finding wasn't something they pulled out of a hat; the Court found that EPA MUST take an endangerment stand.

Second, many programs are simply ongoing activities.  While the top of the EPA hierarchy are political appointees, the vast majority of EPA staff are career professionals who simply go to work each day and do their jobs.  So work moves forward no matter what political tug-of-war may be keeping the press busy.

That said, Congressional action, or inaction, can significantly impact EPA effectiveness.  Many in the incoming majority in the House have indicated a desire to step up oversight of EPA.  So it is likely that the EPA Administrator and other senior officials will be spending more time in hearings looking at possible overstep of EPA authority rather than the many hearings held over the last two years geared towards finding a path forward to address key issues like chemical right-to-know, children's exposure, GHG emissions and climate change. 

As I mentioned in my last post, the future of the TSCA reform law is uncertain.  All stakeholders have expressed a desire, and acknowledged the need, to modernize the 34-year old law.  But doing so will require the new Congress to focus on moving forward instead of looking toward the past.  It's unclear whether that is the case.  In the end it will probably come down to industry pushing for a new law to 1) avoid a patchwork of ever-increasing state laws and 2) put in place a manageable, i.e., doable, law that protects public health and the environment.

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