Trump EPA’s Meddling with Toxic Chemicals Law Sparks Bipartisan Calls for Oversight Hearing

EWG: Agency Is ‘Cooking the Books’ To Keep Dangerous Chemicals in Use
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For Immediate Release: 
Friday, January 18, 2019

WASHINGTON – Concern among members of Congress over the Trump administration’s implementation of the updated federal chemicals law burst across the aisle this week, with both the top Republican and Democrat on a key House environment subcommittee calling for oversight hearings.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change, and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., the ranking Republican on the panel, plan to hold an oversight hearing to get answers from the Environmental Protection Agency about how it’s executing the agency’s beefed-up authority to protect the public from toxic chemicals.

Anthony Adragna of Politico Pro reported this week that Tonko and Shimkus are eager to get answers from the EPA about how it is protecting public health from dangerous chemicals.

“The spirit and letter of those reforms should be implemented to the nth degree,” Tonko said. “I agree with former Chairman Shimkus that we need to do oversight and we need to revisit how it's being implemented.”

“I think now it’s time to have an oversight hearing to see where they’re at and get some real numbers,” Shimkus said. “How many new chemicals do we have and how many do we have a decision on.”

“We applaud this bipartisan call for oversight,” said EWG Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber. “There is ample evidence showing that the Trump EPA is cooking the books to allow some of the most hazardous chemicals in existence to remain in use, putting millions of people at further risk of exposure.”

In 2016, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, which amended the woefully weak Toxic Substances Control Act. The new law gives the EPA power to finally ban asbestos and other dangerous chemicals.

Since the Trump administration came to power, a number of troubling decisions by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and current Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler show an agency bending both the spirit and letter of the new chemicals law to benefit the chemical industry.

Among the most egregious actions is the EPA’s decision to ignore the many ways that people are exposed to chemicals that put vulnerable populations, such as young children and communities near factories, at even greater risk.

The new law requires the EPA to consider all uses of a chemical when evaluating it for safety. Despite this clear directive, Wheeler is ignoring key exposures to asbestos in the agency’s safety assessment, likely in violation of the law.

Wheeler appears to be laying the groundwork for the agency to find that asbestos is safe and should remain legal. Other chemicals the EPA is dragging its feet to restrict or ban include the lethal paint-stripping chemical methylene chloride and the notorious industrial solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA is retreating from an earlier proposal to ban key uses of TCE, and it is excluding water, air and soil pollution from a safety assessment under the new chemicals law.

“The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment, not the profits of the chemical industry,” Faber added. “There are a lot of questions about how the EPA is implementing the chemicals law, and Chairman Tonko and Ranking Member Shimkus deserve answers on behalf of all Americans.”

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.