EPA Insiders Are Now Using A Mundane Rule Change To Thrash Trump
In-house scientists and other career staff inside the Environmental Protection Agency objected after the agency crafted rules in June governing the use of a chemical posing a threat to public health, The New York Times reported Friday.
Attorneys and agency officials balked after former Administrator Scott Pruitt etched out a new process for the use of asbestos in consumer products, according to internal emails TheNYT obtained. The use of asbestos became a controversial topic since the U.S. restricted without banning the chemical’s use in the 1970s. Activists worry the EPA is loosening rules on its use.
“The new approach raises significant concerns about the potential health impacts,” Sharon Cooperstein, a policy analyst at the agency, wrote in one of the emails. Two other officials — a veteran agency scientist and a longtime EPA attorney, neither of which were named in TheNYT report — said the proposal left open the possibility that manufacturers could start using asbestos in some cases without getting expressed permission.
The plan stems from the EPA’s responsibility to regulate chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and comply with an Obama-era amendment requiring the agency to re-evaluate the harmfulness of toxic material. Asbestos was the primary target, because it can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma after prolonged exposure. Most asbestos used in the U.S. today is chrysotile asbestos, which is shorter and thicker and lower risk because they embed less freely in human tissue.
The EPA attempted to ban the chemical in 1991, but a federal court overruled the agency’s proposal, pointing out that such a ban would remove asbestos from automobile brakes, which could increase brake failures. Former President Barack Obama reformed the TSCA in 2016 to eliminate language preventing the agency from prohibiting the chemical’s use. Activists tabulated a list of chemicals they hoped to get banned after the amendment passed.
Cooperstein and her colleagues were specifically referring to the Significant New Use Rule (or SNUR), a rule forcing manufacturers to notify the EPA if they intend on producing a product with chemicals from asbestos. The industry could produce and use asbestos for any reason save for the SNUR, according to the agency. Yet the agency is rejecting any suggestions that asbestos will become a household mainstay.
“The press reports on this issue are inaccurate,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt told The Daily Caller News Foundation Thursday. “Without the proposed Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) EPA would not have a regulatory basis to restrict manufacturing and processing for the new asbestos uses covered by the rule.” (RELATED: Postal Service Exposes Employees To Asbestos, Mold And ‘Sanitary Issues’)
Hewitt added: “The EPA action would prohibit companies from manufacturing, importing, or processing for these new uses of asbestos unless they receive approval from EPA.” The agency’s new administrator, Andrew Wheeler, responded Wednesday with a similar complaint on Twitter.