Oct. 11, 2011 by Lena Pons

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 …

Oct. 7, 2011 by

Continuing their crusade to undermine the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), the most prominent worldwide database of toxicological profiles of common chemicals, House Republicans held yet another hearing Thursday morning to review how the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical risk assessment program interacts with and informs regulatory policy. This time, witnesses descended from politics into the weeds of science policy, doing their best to pretend that scientific risk assessments that say how “safe” dioxin is or isn’t have the same supposedly “job-killing” impact as all those actual environmental, health and safety regulations they’ve been maligning for the past year.

 The witnesses, a peculiar mix of industry-funded scientists and hostile state regulators, were united by the fact that they don’t seem to know the difference between a straightforward scientific assessment of the potential risks of chemicals, and a regulation to do something about those …

Oct. 6, 2011 by Rena Steinzor

The blog post was co-authored by Rena Steinzor and James Goodwin.

When President Obama issued his new Executive Order 13563 this past January – the one calling on agencies to “look-back” at existing regulations –speculation abounded as to what, if any effect, it would have on agencies’ rulemaking. Setting aside the look-back plan provisions (and the President’s unproductive anti-regulation rhetoric in the Wall Street Journal), the new Order didn’t seem to add much to the 18-year-old Executive Order 12866, save for a few broad platitudes relating to regulatory policy. But the President’s decision to kill EPA’s new ozone standard suggests that the new Order can and will be used to weaken regulations.

Last Thursday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress that the Obama Administration would revert to the ozone standard set by the Bush Administration: 75 parts per billion (ppb) in ambient air. Of …

Oct. 5, 2011 by Catherine O'Neill

At a growing number of contaminated sites across the nation, “cleanup” means that toxic contaminants are left in place while environmental agencies look to institutional controls (ICs) to limit human contact with these contaminants. Agencies hope that ICs such as deed restrictions or advisory signs will inform people about the continued presence of contaminants at a site and help them steer clear, thus avoiding exposure. Yet agencies have done little to ascertain whether these hopes are well-founded, particularly over the long term. Against this backdrop, EPA released guidance last month that for the first time seeks to systematize its evaluation of ICs. The guidance directs EPA investigators conducting five-year reviews to determine whether ICs called for as part of site cleanups have actually been implemented and maintained. This guidance is a welcome first step. But larger questions remain about agencies’ increased reliance on ICs and other forms …

Oct. 4, 2011 by Thomas McGarity

Last week, we learned that the nation suffered the deadliest outbreak of foodborne disease in the last decade or more. As Jensen Farms of  Granada, Colorado recalled millions of potentially contaminated “Rocky Road” cantaloupes, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control concluded that 15 deaths and 84 serious illnesses in 19 states were caused by melons containing the rare but exceedingly virulent bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease they contracted, called Listeriosis, has a mortality rate of around 25 percent. Those victims who are fortunate enough to survive are at risk for meningitis and encephalitis.

In addition to being one of the most vicious of the known foodborne pathogens, Listeria is one of the more insidious bugs. The tiny bacteria can hide in the crevices of cantaloupes, remaining there after the fruit has undergone multiple washings. When the melons are sliced, the bacteria can find their way into …

Oct. 4, 2011 by Matt Shudtz

A few weeks ago, Rena Steinzor used this space to highlight some questionable activity happening at EPA’s IRIS office and wonder, “ Is IRIS Next on the Hit List?” The good news last week was that EPA released a number of documents, including the controversial and long-awaited assessment of TCE, giving some reassurance that IRIS staff are still plugging away at their important work (see Jennifer Sass and Daniel Rosenberg over at Switchboard for more on the TCE news).

A new report from Inside EPA,  available here, sheds more light on the state of IRIS, by which we now see that the chemical industry’s lobbying arm, the American Chemistry Council, has its cross-hairs trained directly on the IRIS program.

Maria Hegstad reports that ACC recently met with Cass Sunstein, Administrator of OIRA, and David Lane, assistant to President Obama and counselor to the President’s Chief …

Oct. 3, 2011 by Daniel Farber

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

I’ve done several postings about the theory that regulatory uncertainty causes unemployment.  I’m skeptical of the claim as a general matter, but if there’s any validity to it, one of the major causes of regulatory uncertainty is the Tea Party, along with other libertarians and opponents of regulation.

It’s not hard to see how the prospect of deregulation could cause businesses to delay investments and hiring:

  • Why build a new power plant today when you may be able to build a much cheaper plant with fewer environmental restrictions in a few years?
  • If a hospital isn’t sure of the health care financing model that will be in place in a couple of years, why hire new people now or make investments in new equipment?  Better to wait until you know whether the health-care law remains in effect.
  • If …

Oct. 3, 2011 by Joseph Tomain

This post was written by Member Scholars Kirsten Engel, William Funk, and Joseph Tomain, and Policy Analyst Wayland Radin.

The President’s recently announced American Jobs Act would be partially funded by repealing oil and gas subsidies, including subsidies in the forms of tax credits and exemptions. Eliminating these unnecessary and harmful subsidies would be a long overdue step toward sound climate and energy policies. Oil and gas subsidies cost American taxpayers billions of dollars every year, but have long since ceased to serve any clear policy goal. Rather, they inflate the profits of an industry that is already highly profitable.

Federal energy subsidies are criticized as wasteful government spending by politicians on both sides of the aisle.  But not all energy subsidies are wasteful. When properly targeted, federal subsidies can achieve social benefits that elude the free market, such as a clean environment. Subsidies and tax …

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