In a joint statement this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris announced a new “partnership” under which Dow purchased the naming rights for EPA’s Toxics Office. Formerly known as the Office for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, it has been renamed the Dow Office of Endorsing Chemicals and Promotion of Toxics (DECEPT). “We wanted to be truthful with the American people, rather than pretend that the chemical industry, and particularly Dow, isn’t in charge of the Agency’s decisions on toxic chemicals,” Administrator Pruitt said in a statement.
“We’re excited about this new branding opportunity,” Liveris commented. “People will know for certain that every decision coming out of the DECEPT Office, whether it is on pesticides or chemicals used in consumer products, is one developed and endorsed by Dow.”
The announcement was not entirely unexpected by those who have been following recent EPA actions on toxic chemicals. In March, Administrator Pruitt ignored the findings of Agency scientists that levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food are unsafe, and walked away from a proposed ban on its use outdoors (it was banned for indoor use nearly twenty years ago). Dow is the main manufacturer of the neurotoxic chemical, which has been associated with developmental delays in children and has been found widely in food and drinking water as well as in the air of agricultural communities where it is sprayed.
In April, Dr. Nancy Beck, formerly a senior lobbyist for the chemical manufacturers’ trade association, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), of which Dow is one of the leading members, was appointed as Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s toxics office. Although the details have not yet been made public, she was apparently hired under an obscure legal provision that Trump officials argue exempts her from being subject to the Administration’s “Ethics Pledge.” Because her position is at the Deputy level, Dr. Beck will not be subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Absent the nomination of anyone to the Assistant Administrator position, Dr. Beck is now in charge of the now-renamed Toxics Office.
Dr. Beck’s installment comes at a crucial time for federal chemicals policy, as the Agency is in the critical early stages of implementing revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which were signed into law in June 2016. Among the key activities currently underway are the development of two “Framework rules” that will set the terms for how EPA will prioritize chemicals for evaluation, and determine whether chemicals are “high” or “low” priority for review, as well as how such evaluation of the chemicals will be conducted. Dr. Beck has been active in the past year testifying on behalf of Dow and the other chemical manufacturers she represented, including submitting recommendations to the Agency on the industry’s preferred approach to the framework rules being developed by EPA’s Toxics Office. The latest indications are that since joining EPA as an advance team for Dow and other chemical manufacturers, she has been actively engaged in reversing the Agency’s proposed positions and directing her staff to re-write the rules along the lines sought by chemical manufacturers.
The outcome of the final framework rules is important, not only because they will impact how EPA approaches prioritizing, evaluating and potentially restricting toxic chemicals, but determinations by EPA that a chemical does not pose an unreasonable risk, or decisions not to restrict a chemical’s use, will, for the first time, have preemptive effect on the ability of states to take restrictive action on those same chemicals.
“Dr. Beck has been a great friend and ally of the chemical manufacturers for many years and we see her as the perfect person to meld Dow and EPA into a single indistinguishable entity,” said Administrator Pruitt. “Whether she is playing the inside game or the outside game, Dr. Beck will always be a key member of our Team,” Liveris added, “putting her in charge of EPA’s toxics office couldn’t come at a better time for us.”
Dow is in the midst of a merger with chemical manufacturer DuPont, and the merged companies will soon operate under the name DowDuPont, with Liveris serving as Chairperson for the next 18 months. Administrator Pruitt suggested that even closer ties between EPA and Dow may also be in the works. “We see this as a great first step, and we’ll continue to explore the potential co-benefits of a complete merger in the months ahead” he said. “The only question is whether we’ll brand it as DowDuPontEPA or EPADowDupont” Liveris added, “either way, the name speaks for itself!”
** In this age of #AlternativeFacts my wet-blanket media folks want me to note that some of this post is satire.