The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Groups Sue EPA for Weakening Toxic Chemical Rules
By Gail Koffman
A major case in point: The EPA official tasked to head up the Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention office, Nancy Beck, came to the job after working as a former high-level official for a chemical industry association. She was charged with updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which addresses the production, use and disposal of such chemicals as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, radon and lead-based paint.
Not surprisingly, Beck's updated TSCA regulations significantly weaken government regulations over these chemicals in consumer products and building materials by removing the provision for regulating all uses of chemicals.
In response, Earthjustice filed two lawsuits against the EPA late last week for weakening these regulations. The suits were filed on behalf of organizations representing populations that are most at risk from weakened chemical regulations—low-income communities, parents and teachers of children with learning disabilities, workers and indigenous populations.
The lawsuits challenge two EPA regulations that set ground rules for how the EPA will prioritize chemicals for safety review and then evaluate the risks of those chemicals under TSCA.
"The EPA's newly adopted rules will leave children, communities and workers vulnerable to dangerous chemicals," said Earthjustice attorney Eve Gartner. "This lawsuit is about one thing: holding the Trump EPA to the letter of the law and ensuring it fulfills its mandate to protect the public."
Under the Obama administration, Congress strengthened the TSCA, requiring the EPA to conduct comprehensive risk evaluations of chemicals. These evaluations devoted special attention to all of the risks posed to vulnerable populations and to consider all the ways a chemical may be used to account for all possible sources of exposure, otherwise known as the "conditions of use" provision.
The Trump administration's revision of TSCA is an entirely different matter. "The most significant change is whether the EPA must consider all 'conditions of use' as part of the risk evaluation process," explained attorney Eve Gartner. "If the EPA can pick and choose which uses of a chemical it will consider, it could ignore some sources of exposure. And that could lead the agency to underestimate the risk the chemical poses to public health."
For more than six years, Earthjustice has fought for TSCA reform to ensure the EPA adequately protects the public and environment from harmful chemicals.
Earthjustice filed Friday's complaints in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Learning Disabilities Association of America, United Steelworkers, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Health Strategy Center, the Environmental Working Group and the Sierra Club.
"What Mr. Trump may not realize is that many residents, especially tenants living in poor or substandard housing, disproportionately suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma," said Dr. Adrienne Hollis, director of federal policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
"We need to know the risks of chemicals used in our communities because exposure often exacerbates health disparities and outcomes. Enforcement of chemical laws to keep our communities healthy should be a top priority for the EPA."
Regarding the harm of toxic chemicals to children, Patricia Lillie, president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, said, "These rules ... give the EPA authority to choose to ignore chemical uses that could result in prenatal and children's exposures to chemicals that are linked to learning and developmental disabilities."
Earthjustice also joined the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families in sending a strong letter to EPA director Scott Pruitt, expressing concern about Nancy Beck's conflict of interest in overseeing chemical regulations. Beck's weakening of TSCA is a toxic case in point.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.