It’s no secret that since the Trump Administration took charge of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regulations have been tainted by big business interests while scientists are shoved to the side. This dismissal has drawn the attention of many Congresspersons, particularly democrats.
Recently, 6 senators wrote a letter to Andrew Wheeler, Acting Administrator of the EPA, to explain their concerns over the EPA’s implementation of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) and Lautenberg Act of 2016. This addition was meant to strengthen the TSCA and to help the EPA be more rigorous in the way it assesses chemicals. The letter is another cue to the American public that Trump’s EPA has everything but the environment and Americans’ health in mind.
The Letter and the Law
The TSCA and Lautenberg Act outline processes the EPA uses to determine the dangers posed by chemicals. One key substance to be examined this year was asbestos, a known carcinogen that irrefutably causes lung cancer and mesothelioma.
In the letter, the senators explained their dismay that the EPA was moving to make TSCA less stringent, and would not involve feedback from the public, or explain how they were changing the regulations.
While the senators noted that the EPA had been following the new law, they wrote: “beginning in the middle of last year EPA signaled it would change course by narrowing the scope of its new chemical reviews and the requisite risk determinations in a manner that deviated from the statute.”
The authors of this letter include Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). All 6 legislators were dedicated to passage of the Lautenberg Act, which is slowly being dissolved under Trump’s EPA.
The senators asked Wheeler to assign EPA employees to explain the changes to members of their office staff before these revisions are put into place. Many of these alterations are related to how the EPA defines terms found in the TSCA, details that could have important consequences for Americans’ health.
Regulation Roulette and Dirty Definitions
Much of the “clouding” of the TSCA may be due to interpretations by current EPA administrators. For example, the EPA is supposed to consider ways that a chemical will be used, or is “reasonably forseen” to be used in the future. The current EPA would make the definition of “reasonably foreseen” so specific that these uses will be the same as intended uses. This change makes the law very narrow, restricting the EPA’s regulatory authority.
Former EPA Director Scott Pruitt had already changed the ways some chemicals were assessed under the TSCA. Importantly, he had stated that the EPA would not examine past uses of asbestos in determining its safety, only new uses. Further, Pruitt said the EPA would not ban asbestos from being used in new products.
The anti-protection measures were a radical change from the intentions of the Obama administration, which was moving toward more stringent regulations. But things are different under the Trump Administration, which consistently puts profits before people.
Big Business Benefits; People Don’t
The EPA recently came under further scrutiny when Politico revealed that Trump’s EPA appointees have delayed the release of a study on the carcinogenic properties of formaldehyde. This chemical has been scientifically linked to nose and throat cancer, and leukemia. Pruitt told senators earlier this year that the report was almost finished, but recently other EPA officials claimed it was far from complete.
The EPA has been accused by current and former employees of stopping the release because it could harm the chemical industry. Such information could mean more extensive safety guidelines and protective measures for workers exposed to formaldehyde, which is used to treat wood furniture and in some consumer products. Big business interests have long derided the EPA because of review processes they claim are unnecessary, but public health advocates argue these regulations protect the health of workers and consumers.
Of particular concern to these advocates are the number of scientists who have been removed from EPA advisory boards and replaced by industry executives and others with industry ties. A number of high-profile individuals at the EPA have connections to the chemical industry, including Nancy Beck who is now working in the EPA’s chemical safety office. She used to work for the American Chemical Council (ACC), an industry lobbying group, and has long criticized EPA safety assessment processes.
Acting Administrator Wheeler, recipient of the letter from those 6 concerned senators, has been a chemical company lobbyist, too, yet was not been barred from working on chemical issues at the EPA. His past business connections raise serious questions about how sincerely he will respond to the senators. Only 1 thing is clear – many Americans are counting the days until we can return to the ballot box, and send our own letters to Washington.