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.
'Industry Friendly' @EPA Completes Review of 600 New Chemicals https://t.co/SlI8X2P5d1 @EnvDefenseFund @ewg @OrganicConsumer— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1502205362.0
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.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.