Facing Victims of His Inaction, Pruitt Proposes...Something

EPA released a vague statement today that it "is working" to finalize a rule on the toxic chemical methylene chloride "shortly"—but what does that mean?

Having met this week with family members of some of the victims of their inaction on methylene chloride, and faced with news stories indicating the families came away from the meeting dissatisfied and discouraged, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his Toxic Chief Nancy Beck decided they had to do something.

So today EPA issued a press release announcing…something. The Agency announced that it “is working to send the finalized rulemaking to OMB shortly.” There is no specificity as to when the rule will be sent to OMB, what action on methylene chloride the final rule is likely to contain, or any timeline for when OMB will complete its review.

Pruitt and Beck have sat on the proposed ban on methylene chloride in paint strippers for more than a year. In that time, three people have been publicly identified as having died from exposure and several more are also likely to have been victims.

Based upon today’s announcement, it could easily be weeks, months, or even years before a ban on methylene chloride is in place and in effect. Pruitt and Beck should be announcing their plan to ban methylene chloride in paint strippers immediately, and apologizing for having failed to do so.

And what about the black box that is the OMB review process? Proposed restrictions on chemicals typically get stalled at OMB for months, sometimes years. But it turns out, when it is something that industry wants, OMB can move mighty quickly. It was reported this week that the White House office cleared Pruitt’s Censoring Science rule in, at most, four days. If OMB does receive a proposed ban from EPA, it should be cleared for final publication in no more than 48 hours.

In the meantime, retailers such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Amazon should not wait for Scott Pruitt and Nancy Beck to do what is right, they should remove paint strippers containing methylene chloride from their shelves immediately.

If they do finalize the proposed ban, Pruitt and Beck will at least have put a cap on the number of needless deaths that occurred from this one chemical, due to their inaction. We’ll have the families of some of those victims to thank for that. Failure to finalize a ban will fall short of the law’s requirement to eliminate the unreasonable risk that EPA already concluded the chemical poses, leaving the Agency vulnerable to a legal challenge.

Beyond methylene chloride, Pruitt and Beck continue to implement the revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in a manner inconsistent with the law’s requirements, including its improper methods for evaluating both existing and new chemicals. And today’s announcement was silent on two other proposed restrictions on specific uses of solvents—TCE and NMP—which Pruitt and Beck have also sat on for more than a year, ensuring ongoing exposure to carcinogens and reproductive toxics.

EPA should be acting to protect the public from these toxic chemicals and implementing the law as Congress intended, not simply pressing the agenda of the chemical manufacturers like Dow, DuPont, Exxon and Monsanto, who it appears they are most keen to represent.

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