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Science at EPA Is Changing Quickly, With Big Potential Consequences

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., June 19, 2009

Science at the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has attracted a lot of criticism.  EPA assessment and regulation of chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (“TSCA”) and other statutes has been limited by slow, expensive, resource-intensive, and at times politicized scientific procedures and programs, many of which were intensely criticized during the Bush Administration.  Procedures for testing chemicals for potential human toxicity, utilizing that information in risk assessments, and meaningfully communicating risk information have proven too cumbersome to meet the increasing information needs of regulators and other policy makers.  The perception of a large gap between the information EPA needs to adequately manage chemical risks and the information EPA can obtain through its existing programs has led to calls for legislative action to fundamentally revise TSCA. 

But things are changing, and fast.  In response to these pressures, the Obama Administration is building on work begun in the last few years of the Bush Administration to build new science capabilities.  EPA is working to implement recommendations from recent reports by the National Research Council and others to incorporate revolutionary new toxicity testing science and technology into a refined risk assessment paradigm.  In addition, the Obama Administration has reversed course on a number of Bush Administration policies.  It has taken steps to rein in White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) reviews of agency scientific and regulatory decisions.  It has also significantly increasing federal funding for EPA and its science programs.  Moreover, EPA under the Obama Administration has dramatically streamlined the process for conducting chemical assessments under the Integrated Risk Information System (“IRIS”). 

What does this mean?  The implications of these new capabilities, which mostly are still under development, may include faster and more accurate assessment of chemical risks to health and the environment.  That, in turn, may in some cases reduce the level of regulatory scrutiny for particular chemicals.  In other cases, EPA is likely to have a stronger evidentiary basis for regulating particular chemicals more stringently, and to be more nimble in taking regulatory actions.  Furthermore, these developments may signal EPA’s new ability to move from the laborious chemical-by-chemical approach that has hindered EPA’s ability to prioritize large numbers of chemicals.  With the new science capabilities, EPA may be able to follow the lead of Canada in prioritizing chemicals for regulatory action under an amended TSCA. 

These developments and their potential significance are explained in the following four reports:

These reports were written by Mark N. Duvall and Alexandra M. Wyatt. For more information, please contact Mr. Duvall at mduvall@bdlaw.com, (202) 789-6090.

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