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by Rena Steinzor, cross-posted from CPRBlog

What Progressives Expect from OIRA: An Open Letter to Cass Sunstein

Dear Cass:

As you know, we picked a spat with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) last week over Randy Lutter’s supposedly temporary detail appointment to your office.  It’s not the first time we’ve criticized the workings of OIRA, and almost certainly won’t be the last. 

I’ve spoken to a number of people in the media and elsewhere who have expressed surprise that progressive organizations like CPR are such relentless critics of a progressive Administration.  I’m sure Administration officials feel this frustration as well.  That dynamic is at work in OIRA’s case because you have a reputation as a progressive thinker on many issues.

I won’t try to speak for all progressives, but I can assure you that very few of us criticize the Administration lightly.  Nor do we do it with any sense of pleasure. 

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by Richard Denison, PhD, cross-posted from EDF’s ChemNano Blog

Over the last few months, I was heartened to hear a number of industry stakeholders in the debate over TSCA reform embrace the idea of designating in TSCA reform legislation a “jump-start” or “quick-start” list of chemicals of high concern or priority.  The idea was to allow EPA to hit the ground running, by having an agreed-to list of chemicals on which it could immediately initiate action.  Well it now appears many in industry actually have something far slower and far more cumbersome in mind.

The Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the U.S House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday on the question of “prioritization”: How a new law could best spur prompt identification of and action on the chemicals of highest concern.  Mr. Bill Greggs testified on behalf of three trade associations prominent in the debate over TSCA reform:  The Consumer Specialty Products Association, the Soap and Detergent Association, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

In Mr. Greggs’ testimony and answers to questions from subcommittee members, what industry has in mind when it talks about a quick start became much clearer:

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by Andrew Schneider, cross-posted from Cold Truth

At last, the world’s oldest public health organization has joined the funeral dirge-paced parade to ban asbestos in the U.S.  The 50,000-member American Public Health Association adopted a resolution at its annual meeting this week calling on Congress to pass legislation banning the manufacture, sale, export, or import of asbestos-containing products including products in which asbestos is a contaminant.  Asbestos, a known carcinogen, annually claims the lives of more than 10,000 Americans.

“With this new policy, APHA is joining the World Federation of Public Health Associations and other international organizations calling for a global ban on asbestos mining, and manufacturing, and the dangerous practice of exporting asbestos containing products,” said Dr. Celeste Monforton, chair of the organization’s Occupational Health and Safety section.  “As the World Health Organization noted in 2006, the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos related diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos.”

Asbestos was banned in the U.S. briefly in 1989, after the Environmental Protection Agency conducted a ten-year study, spent millions in research and accumulated 100,000 pages of justification. The agency announced that it would phase out and ban virtually all products containing asbestos.  But the fledgling ban lasted less than two years.  The well-funded Canadian Asbestos industry challenged the ban.  The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court acknowledged that “asbestos is a potential carcinogen at all levels of exposure,” but nevertheless threw out the life-saving legislation over technical issues. 

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Jennifer Sass at NRDC’s Switchboard blog takes a look at the good things that the Obama administration EPA, headed by Administrator Lisa Jackson, is doing on toxic substances. Three of the ones she pointed out particularly caught my eye; she writes:

Nanosilver and nano-scale pesticides: Next week EPA will ask its Scientific Advisory Panel to review the data relevant to conducting a safety assessment of nanosilver and other nano-sized metals used as antimicrobials and pesticides. These hazardous nano-sized metals, including both nanosilver and nano-copper, are used in hundreds of commercial products without having undergone any safety testing or registration on the nano-sized material. NRDC will provide these comments to the expert panel at its review next week.

IRIS review process for hazardous chemical assessments: Overturning a highly-criticized Bush-era policy that formalized White House interference, Administrator Jackson announced a new process for assessing toxic chemicals under the Office of Research and Development IRIS (Integrated Risk Information System) program, in addition to $5 million and 10 new employees for the IRIS program. The new process increases public transparency and reduces political interference.

TRI reporting of hazardous releases: EPA reversed a 2006 rulemaking that reduced the number of industrial facilities required to provide detailed reports of their emissions under the Toxic Release Inventory. NRDC and many others had objected to this rule. This rule was overturned in the omnibus signed by President Obama.

As Jennifer notes — and as Rena Steinzor and Matt Shudtz pointed out last week — the effectiveness of both IRIS and TRI may be limited by the Office of Management and Budget. Nonetheless, the EPA is moving in a promising direction. Go read the whole post for more good news.

by Matt Shudtz, cross-posted from CPRBlog

Greenwire and the Los Angeles Times ran pieces last week shining a light into a dark corner where staff at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs once again meddled in scientific regulatory programs where they do not belong, second-guessing EPA’s administration of the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP). The program, mandated by Congress under the Food Quality Protection Act, is designed to identify pesticides like DDT that cause profound changes in wildlife and, potentially, people, through the ubiquitous application of pesticides. Both articles highlighted the key problem, which is that the OMB-promoted changes to the EDSP would undercut EPA’s attempt to get a full suite of new test data on 67 chemicals’ potential endocrine-disrupting effects. But there’s an additional important issue: OMB’s meddling, under the auspices of its power to enforce the Paperwork Reduction Act, shifted a heavy burden from industry’s shoulders to EPA’s.

Put another way, Obama’s OIRA snuck through the back door changes that industry had failed to get through the front door of the normal administrative process during the Bush Administration, ultimately forcing changes that threaten to completely undermine the EDSP, which has been moving at a snail’s pace in the face of ferocious industry opposition for well over a decade. Once again, like the episode we reported yesterday (“Don’t OMB Economists Have Better Things to Do Than Channel Industry Opposition to EPA Science?“), this particular bit of mischief was a fait accompli before Cass Sunstein was confirmed as OIRA Administrator. And, once again, the episode shows how much work Sunstein will have to do to transform and redirect an institution that in far too many ways continues to behave as if George W. Bush and his anti-regulatory appointees were still running the government.

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by Rena Steiznor, cross-posted from CPR Blog

Original title: “Sunstein Watch: Old Habits Die Hard on the Regulatory Killing Ground; Don’t OMB Economists Have Better Things to Do Than Channel Industry Opposition to EPA Science?”

Before Cass Sunstein had spent much more than a week as the official director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), he invited us over to the White House to talk about how he wanted to shape his small office of economists and statisticians into a strong force for progressive policy within the White House. Followers of the Center for Progressive Reform know that we put out a report in the run-up to his confirmation that was critical of his views on cost-benefit analysis. So I give him credit for opening the door to us, and so soon after his confirmation at that.

It was a good meeting, and we pledged to keep in touch as he undertakes what I hope will be a re-education that will convert his staff from the Bush mode – serving as a sort of waiting room for disgruntled industries – to what we hope will be the Obama mode – serving as a group of visionary economists that identifies the toughest problems holding back desperately needed protections for workers, the public, and the environment, and then moving to make sure the regulatory structure does something about them.

An obscure set of documents posted just last week on the EPA website illustrates the point, demonstrating that in the period before Sunstein’s confirmation OIRA staff were continuing business as usual, acting as if President George W. Bush were still president.

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by Richard Denison, PhD  cross-posted from blogs.edf

In June, EPA published a Federal Register notice that included Significant New Use Rules (SNURs) for two carbon nanotubes (as well as 21 other chemicals).  That notice certainly got the attention of lawyers in town (see here, here and here).  The nanotube SNURs would require anyone planning to produce or process either of the two substances to notify EPA if the person intended not to comply with the (rather limited) risk management conditions specified by EPA.  Well, as reported yesterday by Sara Goodman of E&E News, EPA is now withdrawing the SNURs, at least temporarily.   

[Note:  Since first posting this Friday, I have made a few changes.  In first writing this post, I let show too much my frustration over the fact that even the smallest of steps taken by EPA to ensure some review of nanomaterials prior to their commercialization appears to have engendered an industry challenge.  In a few places, I got too personal and took some gratuitous swipes I shouldn't have.  I apologize for that, and have taken those out.]

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by Richard Denison, cross-posted from EDF Blogs

Today, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) unveiled its “10 Principles for Modernizing TSCA.”   Also today, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition – of which EDF is a member – issued a news release and unveiled its 9-point “Platform for Reform of TSCA.”  How do they line up?

I’ll leave to you readers to decide just how much alignment (or lack thereof) there is between these dueling manifestos.  To get the ball rolling, I’ll use this post to single out three key differences.

First, however, let me say I welcome the fact that ACC is finally moving beyond rhetorical flourishes about “modernization” and “the need to restore public confidence in its products.”  At last ACC has begun to provide something that could become something that one can sink one’s teeth into.  Equally refreshing is that ACC is now acknowledging a number of deep problems with TSCA that it has traditionally denied – problems that many of us having been raising for years. 

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Updated below (6/13/09)

The Associated Press and other news sources are reporting on an explosion today at a meat processing facility in Garner, NC.  Four workers are missing, at least 41 are injured, including several with very severe burns.  One worker reports:

“I was picking up a piece of meat off the line and I felt it, the percussion [force of explosion] in my chest.  One of the guys I was working with got blown back, he flew backwards.”

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As the public health community mourns the loss of a great scientist and colleague, The Pump Handle would like to share some of what has been written about Kate Mahaffey.  Please leave your own remembrances in the comments section below.

“I have known Kathryn as a colleague for more than a decade, but most recently have been impressed with her steadfast scientific integrity while at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  She always managed to honestly communicate scientific findings that while unpopular with some, were critically important to protecting public health.   …Kathryn is a role model for the next generation of environmental public health practitioners.   [The skills she developed were] often learned through ‘trial by fire’ and Kathryn has certainly experienced that, but has always maintained her scientific integrity grounded in the best science available.”  Henry A. Anderson, MD, chief medical officer, state environmental and occupational disease epidemiologist, Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

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