Obama Administration scraps plans for chemical right-to-know

The Environmental Defense Fund and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) both reported last week (here, here) on the Obama Administration’s decision to withdraw two actions being proposed under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).   Chemical manufacturers strongly opposed the measures.  Now, advocates of environmental protection, public health and chemical right-to-know really are exasperated with the sheepish manner the Obama Administration behaves when pressed by powerful interests.

“It seems like a lifetime ago that the Obama Administration came to power and immediately ramped up the rhetoric on tackling the challenges of toxic chemicals,” said EWG president Ken Cook. "This decision is a stunning betrayal by President Obama of the public interest and public health."

One of the scrapped proposals set out to classify bishenol A, some phthalates, and certain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) as “chemicals of concern.”  It’s an authority given the EPA under section 5(b)(4) of TSCA.  The provision is really quite tame:

"[It] authorizes the [EPA] Administrator to compile and keep current a list of chemical substances with respect to which the Administrator finds that the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal, or any combination of such activities, presents or may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment."

Simply compiling a list of chemicals that may present a risk of injury.  That is objectionable to chemical manufacturers?  Really?

To make matters worse, the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) strung along supporters of this “chemicals of concern” listing for more than three years.  I wonder if they eventually realized that the White House’s opinion about disclosure of hazard information, not EPA’s, would prevail.

The other draft proposal addressed the problem of chemical manufacturers making claims that the health and safety information about their compounds is “confidential business information.”  Such claims contradict the letter and spirit of TSCA.

EPA’s proposal would have ensured that its practices were consistent with the law’s emphasis on public disclosure and community right-to-know.  EPA also noted that revisions to its practices would increase transparency and availability of health and safety information on chemicals in commerce to the general public.

This proposal was another one held by OIRA long beyond the 90 day review period stipulated in EO 12866.  It was “under review” by OIRA for nearly two years.  During that time, I count a slew of closed-door meetings about the proposal among OIRA staff, chemical manufacturers and their lobbyists.  Makes me wonder what in the world chemical companies have to hide.  Are the results of their health and safety studies that damning?  I’m left to believe they are.

More like this

When negotiations over legislation to reform the 39-year-old Toxics Substance Control Act (TSCA) broke down this past fall, among the major points that remained unresolved were how a revised TSCA would treat state and other local chemicals management regulations and how – and under what timelines…
“The United States is facing an industrial chemical safety crisis,” Chemical Safety Board Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on March 6th. He spoke at hearing held to discuss President Obama’s August 2013 Executive Order on chemical facility safety…
Finally!  After far too much hullabaloo about the cost of regulations, there was a U.S. Senate hearing today on why public health regulations are important, and how delays by Congress and the Administration have serious negative consequences for people's lives.  Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)…
It may come as a surprise to those not familiar with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – the primary law that regulates chemicals used in the US that go into products other than cosmetics, drugs and pesticides – to learn that about 15,000 chemicals on the TSCA inventory have their identities…

Very interesting - thanks!

I wonder where Obama plans to go to work after the Presidency? Monsanto or JP Morgan?

By Brooke Neal (not verified) on 16 Sep 2013 #permalink

People have a right to know exactly what is in the products they are consuming. I can't fathom any reason why anyone would think that covering up this information would be in the best interest of Americans. I for one am chemically sensitive and it is a crucial matter for me to have real honest product information. If something is being hidden from us, we need to know it.

By Laurelyn Heath… (not verified) on 16 Sep 2013 #permalink

United States is a much better position to create an example for other countries, and we hope that Obama-led government will make it do so without anymore delay.

By Faisal Saya (not verified) on 19 Sep 2013 #permalink