EWG Seeks Records on White House, EPA Retreat on Chemical Safety Initiatives
Washington, D.C. –The Environmental Working Group has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the White House to learn whether industry improperly influenced the government’s decision to drop two proposals to strengthen public health protections from toxic chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency withdrew the proposals in September after they had been bottled up at the White House Office of Management and Budget for more than a year.
“Once again red tape appears to have choked EPA efforts to enhance environmental and human health protections, forcing EPA to go back to the drawing board,” said Thomas Cluderay, EWG’s General Counsel.
Under the leadership of former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, the agency had launched two initiatives to protect the public from toxic chemical exposures, relying on its limited authority under the weak federal law known as the Toxic Substances Control Act. In 2010, EPA proposed a regulation to establish a short list of chemicals thought to pose a risk to public health. Then in 2011, the agency set out to require chemical companies to disclose more information about their products.
As required by law, EPA submitted the proposals to OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the White House’s powerful gatekeeper that oversees rulemaking by federal agencies. The proposed rules never cleared OMB, and on Sept. 6, EPA surprised the public interest groups by abandoning the effort. Officials said the rules had been made unnecessary by other steps EPA had taken and that requiring companies reveal the identity of chemicals in health and safety studies submitted to the agency would cause industry to stop providing its studies.
The public had no opportunity to weigh in on either initiative because they were never published for public comment, but White House records show that OMB met with a host of special interests to discuss the rules, particularly representatives of the chemical industry.
“The public deserves to know what hand the chemical industry had in pressuring OMB to hold up, and EPA to fold on, these efforts to protect public health,” added Cluderay. “EWG will use the requested records to answer that very question.”
EPA’s backpedaling is particularly relevant to the ongoing debate over reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act. The chemical industry is backing the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, a deeply flawed bill that, among other defects, would expand companies’ ability to keep information about chemicals confidential.