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.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Future of TSCA Chemical Reform Law Uncertain After Election Results

The mid-term elections in the United States have put the future of the TSCA reform into question, for a variety of reasons:

1) The current House bill was introduced by California Representative Henry Waxman and Illinois Representative Bobby Rush, who served as chairs of the relevant committee and subcommittee, respectively. Both won reelection, but with the Republicans gaining control of the House that means Waxman and Rush will be demoted to ranking members.  While the new chairs have yet to be determined, they will be Republicans and are likely to have a different vision of how to proceed.  If they proceed at all.

2) The current bills in the House and Senate probably lean slightly more toward the environmental and health advocacy position (though they might disagree with that characterization).  With Republicans now the majority in the House the new bills, which would have to be reintroduced in the next Congress anyway, will likely lean more toward the industry position (though like the advocacy side, there is quite a bit of differences of opinion between various industry stakeholders).

3) Several potential chairs of key environmental, health, and oversight committees have indicated a desire to undertake oversight hearings. So while there were many hearings on TSCA reform during the last year or two, those hearings were on finding a path forward for reform.  The will likely be some of those as well under the new chairs in the House, but the oversight committee is likely to be holding hearings on whether EPA is overstepping its current authority under TSCA as it exists now.  This could dilute the effort towards reforming the law.

There are other reasons that yesterday's election creates additional uncertainty in the continuing attempts to reform the 34-year old chemical control law, and I'll take a look at those as more information on the changed legislative dynamics in Washington becomes available.

Monday, November 1, 2010

International Scientists Sign "San Antonio Statement" Calling for Regulation of Brominated Flame Retardants

Recently a group of scientists met to discuss the growing concern about "the persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic properties of brominated and chlorinated organic flame retardants (BFRs and CFRs, respectively) and the exposure to humans and wildlife as a result of intensive use."  The result is the “San Antonio Statement on Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants.”

The signatories, nearly 150 scientists from 22 countries, are all "experts on the health effects and environmental fate of BFRs and CFRs and environmental contaminants in general. The International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP), an international network of scientists working on various aspects of chemical pollution, also has approved the statement."

The San Antonio statement includes 20 points that acknowledge the scientific concern for these substances, and the fact that three brominated flame retardants have already been listed in the Stockholm Convention treaty for global elimination. They note that these materials are persistent and "can undergo long-range environmental transport."

The full San Antonio Statement in published in the online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.  There is also an introduction to the Statement by NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum and IPCP Board member and Professor Ake Bergman.