Defending our Health from the Scott Pruitt Chemical Industry

So corporations are people, but it seems that people can also be corporations. Take Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Here are two of Pruitt’s defining features: (1) he is unembarrassed about breaking rules and cutting corners to get what he wants, and (2) he is an unapologetic agent for the chemical industry, rewriting agency rules (or making up new ones) and ignoring the law to put corporate interests ahead of protecting people from chemicals that cause cancer, developmental delays and reproductive harm.

But NRDC is standing up for the health of children and families. We are taking Pruitt to Court, as often as we need to. Yesterday, we filed our opening brief in a case challenging Pruitt’s attempt to circumvent the law and allow new toxic chemicals onto the market without the appropriate review.

As the head of the EPA, Pruitt sets the tone and direction for the Agency. Nowhere in the Agency better reflects its current “leadership” than EPA’s woebegone Toxics office.

The Toxics office is formally (and somewhat idealistically) known as the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. It’s in charge of reviewing and regulating the safety of pesticides and industrial chemicals, which are used in many commercial and consumer products. Pruitt revamped the Toxics office almost immediately after he took charge, rejecting the finding of EPA’s own scientists and abandoning a proposed plan to ban food-related uses of chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide linked to learning disabilities and behavioral problems. The Agency had already concluded people are being exposed to unsafe levels of the chemical through food residues, drinking water and spray drift. Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by Dow. Pruitt appeared to be happy to do Dow’s bidding and prolong Americans’ routine exposure to chlorpyrifos for years. Those actions are illegal, and NRDC is suing the agency, along with our colleagues at Pesticide Action Network (PANNA) and Earthjustice.

The Toxics office is also responsible for implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). That’s the law governing toxic chemicals, which was revised and strengthened in key respects by Congress in 2016. Shortly after Pruitt arrived at EPA, he hired Toxic Chemical Enthusiast Nancy Beck –a lobbyist for the chemical manufacturer’s trade association—to run the office including implementing TSCA. In about a year’s time, Pruitt and Beck have imposed the chemical industry’s dream agenda. It’s illegal, and it’s terrible for public health and the environment.

Shortly after Beck solidified the industry takeover of EPA, she re-wrote the agency’s proposed rules for prioritizing and evaluating the thousands of toxic chemicals that are used in everyday products. Her re-write—which would allow EPA to ignore significant sources of exposure to toxic chemicals when evaluating their safety—is contrary to what the law requires. A photo of Pruitt signing the final rules—which NRDC and many of our colleague organizations have challenged in federal court—was enlarged and posted throughout the Agency as one of his early successes.

Pruitt and Beck also rewrote the rules for how the Agency reviews new chemicals before they enter the marketplace. Congress strengthened the law governing that process, to ensure that the Agency considers all foreseeable uses of a new chemical—not just what the manufacturer says it will be used for. Congress required EPA to issue orders to protect the public from new chemicals unless it concluded that they were unlikely to pose an unreasonable risk to health or the environment. But Pruitt and Beck, again fulfilling the desires of Dow, DuPont, Exxon and other major chemical manufacturers, adopted a rule that fails to consider all foreseeable uses of a chemical, and avoids doing what Congress explicitly required: issuing orders to protect the public. And here’s the kicker, EPA changed the rules without following the required process for public engagement. Congress required the agency to provide the public with notice and an opportunity to comment. Apparently, EPA’s mission to rollback protections from toxic chemicals was just too urgent for the agency to actually follow the process the law requires.

NRDC sued the Pruitt EPA in January to overturn its illegal rule. Our colleagues at Safer Chemicals Healthy Families intervened to support our side of the case. Meanwhile, the chemical manufacturers trade association, the American Chemistry Council (Nancy Beck’s previous employer) has intervened to defend Scott Pruitt and Beck’s illegal rule.

We just filed our opening brief in the case, which you can read here.

There is currently no daylight between what the chemical industry wants, and what Scott Pruitt and Nancy Beck are willing to do, even if that means poisoning people and breaking the law to do it.

Scott Pruitt and the Chemical Industry are one and the same.

We’re fighting the Scott Pruitt Chemical Industry to defend the health and well-being of our children, our families and our communities.

About the Authors

Daniel Rosenberg

Director, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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