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By Jessie Nguyen and Lynn L. Bergeson

On August 1, 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW Committee) held a hearing entitled “Examining EPA’s Agenda:  Protecting the Environment and Allowing America’s Economy to Grow.”  Testifying at the hearing was Andrew Wheeler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Acting Administrator.  Witness testimony and an archive of the hearing are available online.  The hearing was intended to provide Wheeler with the opportunity to present himself for the first time in front of the EPW Committee as the Acting Administrator, and to update the EPW Committee on EPA’s agenda since the resignation of Scott Pruitt, EPA’s former Administrator.  Wheeler’s testimony highlighted three main priorities for EPA moving forward:  (1) regulatory certainty between EPA and state/local governments; (2) improvement of programs within EPA; and (3) increased transparency in risk communication.

During the questioning, Wheeler informed the EPW Committee that the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay and the prevention of future lead contamination are high priorities for the Agency.  When questioned by Senator John Boozman (R-AR) about EPA’s relationship with stakeholders, Wheeler stated that clear communication between EPA and its stakeholders is essential before implementing any regulatory action.  EPA is also committed to working with other government agencies to enhance their regulatory process.

Next, the Trump Administration’s decision to roll back auto fuel efficiency and emissions standards, as well as the partial revocation of California’s ability to set its own emissions standards, was met with strong objection from Democratic Senators.  Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) stated that the oil industry is “scared to death that $1 trillion will stay stranded in the pockets of consumers.  That’s why the Trump Administration is moving to roll back these standards.”  Wheeler stated his belief that the roll back in emissions standards has saved American consumers $500 billion dollars and 12,000 lives.  Moving forward, Wheeler wants to come up with a “50-states solution” for emissions standards to address the issue of air pollutants and reduce cross-state pollution.

The topic of chemicals was brought up by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) as he is concerned that EPA’s failure to consider all sources of exposure for risk assessment will pose an unreasonable risk to human health -- especially to vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly.  Senator Booker urged EPA to ban trichloroethylene (TCE) on the applications for which proposed rules were issued and ban methylene chloride since they are known carcinogens with recognized health hazards.  Wheeler said EPA is moving forward with the assessment of these chemicals, but he declined to promise on a definitive timeframe.  Similarly, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) urged EPA to release the toxicological report on perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and set a safety level for PFOS in soil and water.

In response to a question on clean energy by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Wheeler stated he will not give preferential treatment for one source of energy over another; EPA’s role is to regulate pollutants, not to identify a preferential fuel source.  Other miscellaneous topics included Wheeler’s commitment to not abuse his hiring authority.  He expressed a willingness to notify the EPW Committee on EPA’s hiring process.  In response to Senator Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) request, EPA will also make a commitment to reduce lead exposure. 


 

By Susan M. Kirsch

On May 22-23, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted a Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) National Leadership Summit (Summit) in Washington, D.C.  The Summit convened federal and state regulators, including representatives from EPA’s Office of Water (OW), EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), a small group of invited industry participants, and representative from the environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) community.  The goals of the Summit were:

  • To share information on efforts to characterize risks from PFAS and to develop monitoring and remediation technologies/techniques;
  • To identify near-term actions to address current state and local challenges; and
  • To develop risk communication strategies to address public concerns and questions surrounding PFAS.

EPA broadcast the opening remarks and perspectives delivered by EPA Administrator Pruitt; Peter Grevatt, Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water; Jeff Morris, Director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT); Craig Butler, Direct of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Chair of the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) Water Committee; and Jessica Bowman, Senior Director of Global Fluoro-Chemistry, at the American Chemistry Council.  During his remarks, Pruitt announced that EPA will soon classify two fluorochemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroctane sulfonate (PFOS), as hazardous substances, and that EPA will begin to development maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for PFOA and PFOS under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  PFOA and PFOS are largely legacy chemicals that were the subject of voluntary phase out by chemical manufacturers.  The presence of PFOA and PFOS at former manufacturing sites and detections in groundwater and drinking water have raised public health concerns and made headlines over the last several months, particularly in Northeast states.

Butler’s remarks highlighted the key questions that ECOS and state participants hoped to have addressed by EPA over the course of the Summit, including any plans for MCL development, guidance on contaminated site remediation and PFAS analytical methods, and EPA’s plan to address data and knowledge gaps about PFOA and PFOS, as well as the alternative short-chain PFAS chemistry that makes up the majority of current and new uses of PFAS.  States are eager for direction and assistance from EPA on standard-setting and, in the absence of federal standards, some states have begun to set their own standards.  A copy of the ECOS statement is available here.

Grevatt shared plans for further co-regulator discussions and community engagement as part of an EPA “roadshow” beginning in late June in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Morris provided an overview of the rigors of the pre-market review process under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and OPPT’s ongoing work to better understand the diverse range of PFAS in the marketplace. 

EPA intended for the Summit to serve as a formal launch of an ongoing dialogue with states, the public, and industry on PFAS, and more details will likely be shared in the coming weeks and months.  A recording of the May 22, 2018, broadcast is available on EPA’s YouTube channel.  Copies of the slide presentations from the Summit are available on EPA’s PFAS Summit website.

Tags: PFAS, PFOS, PFOA, EPA, Summit