Outlined below are thoughts on what might be headed our way in 2014 from the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Beyond the election-driven rhetoric, demands of the discrete issues that routinely come before program management will drive the EPA. An added and complicating concern may be the impact on these and all issues of continued budget cuts that challenge the EPA's ability to operate as it has in the past; even the simple ability to process approvals or conduct public meetings about non-controversial matters have become more difficult.
OCSPP saw new leadership with a new Assistant Administrator, Jim Jones, finally confirmed by the Senate in August. Jones had been Acting Assistant Administrator since December 2011, coming from the position of Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR). Jones appears to maintain an excellent and direct relationship with Administrator McCarthy, which likely was fostered in part by Jones being her Deputy in OAR for a short period. Perhaps this relationship will help OCSPP priorities compete across other EPA program offices in the coming year.
The Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) continued its efforts to make progress on Work Plan chemicals, including starting the peer review process for several chemicals during 2013. The October government shutdown affected a number of peer reviews and the EPA expects these to continue into the early part of 2014.
The fall 2013 Regulatory Agenda identified several new Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) rulemakings, including a Section 8 reporting rule on chemicals used in "fracking," a rule to require assertion and periodic resubstantiation of confidential business information (CBI) claims, and a significant new use rule (SNUR) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and similar perfluorinated compounds (PFC). The last action relates to industry's decision to phase out a number of PFCs under EPA's 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program, a voluntary program that has now been in play for years and that, if phaseout is actually achieved, could be one of OPPT's more significant accomplishments. The Regulatory Agenda also pushed back timelines for ongoing rulemakings, including regulatory requirements relating to formaldehyde in composite wood products, a SNUR and test rule for deca-brominated diphenyl ether (deca-BDE) and other polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), and several other SNURs relating to glymes, benzidine dyes, and toluene diisocyanate (TDI), among others, as well as a Section 8(d) rule on several diisocyanates.
One of the important issues for several of the SNURs concerns the treatment of imported articles and whether the rules would lift the regulatory exemption that otherwise applies to them. Several other significant regulatory issues are at play in the deca-BDE SNUR, including the approach of combining an SNUR with a test rule and how the EPA will define ongoing uses for the flame retardant chemicals. The fall 2013 Regulatory Agenda didn't include the combined SNUR and test rule on the 4th group of High Production Volume Challenge chemicals, which raises the question of whether OPPT has dropped this action and what if anything it says about the approach of combining an SNUR with a test rule.
It's evident from this review of 2013 developments and 2014 prospects that OPPT has a number of significant questions that are yet to be answered concerning its Work Plan risk assessments and its ability to resolve the significant issues and concerns raised by several of its proposed SNURs. OPPT is to be commended for its commitment to moving forward. Unlike in the earlier years of the Obama Administration, OPPT may have to focus on completing its current commitments, rather than adding substantial additional commitments to its agenda.
2014 will be a busy year for the EPA. With the mid-term elections coming in November, it's unclear if OCSPP's ambitious agenda will slow down in the fall. Companies and business interests will need to monitor EPA's actions carefully and, as always, participate as much as possible.
LYNN BERGESON is Chemical Processing's Regulatory Editor. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on conventional, biobased, and nanoscale chemical industry issues. She served as chair of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (2005-2006).