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EPA Chemicals Office in the Spotlight

The Environmental Protection Agency’s chemicals office is getting bipartisan attention for the problems plaguing the implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the statute “at the center of U.S. chemicals law,” according to POLITICO Pro’s E&E Daily (subscription).

What’s happening: During a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Wednesday, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Assistant Administrator Michal Freedhoff cited a persistent lack of funding as a factor in growing frustrations over the revised TSCA, beefed up in 2016.

  • “We can all also agree that things aren’t working as we had hoped,” she admitted, while adding, “The agency has faced some major challenges, and central to all of them was a lack of resources.”
  • “It’s simple, elementary school math,” Freedhoff said. “We won’t do more with less; we’ll do less with less.”

The criticism: “‘If you take on too much, you’re not going to get everything done,’ [committee ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)] said, panning the office’s growing emphasis on safety for workers and accounting for exposure levels within fence-line communities.”

PFAS: Lawmakers also discussed “PFAS, the sprawling family of thousands of compounds increasingly at the heart of the Biden administration’s chemicals crackdown.”

  • How the thousands of substances in the broad and diverse PFAS group are classified and defined differs even within the EPA. The chemicals office is looking at public comments on creating a single definition, Freedhoff said.

Unfeasible thresholds: “Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) also pointed to EPA’s recent health advisories for four PFAS compounds. Those levels are dramatically lower than anything previously proposed by the agency, with thresholds for the two most infamous chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, hovering at near zero, with amounts in parts per quadrillion.”

  • There is no testing available to detect PFAS in those amounts, Kelly said.

What’s next? The EPA is also said to be readying a proposal that could list several older PFAS substances as “hazardous” under the agency’s Superfund program.

  • The NAM recently urged the EPA to do a thorough economic review before committing to such a designation.
  • NAM Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy Rachel Jones said in the recent communication with the agency, “President Clinton said that ‘[t]he American people deserve a regulatory system that works for them, not against them.’ … We agree.”
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