If there’s one group of chemical manufacturers that could get hosed by TSCA reform, it’s the little guy.
According to Maureen Gorsen, an environmental and land development lawyer and the former director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the upcoming comment period by the Environmental Protection Agency is a critical time for chemical manufacturers to have a say in the rules that will affect them. But they often don’t have the resources to participate.
“You’ve got the big companies participating, like Dow, DuPont, etc. But mid- and smaller-sized companies are busy running a business,” she says. “They don’t have time to send people to sit through day-long regulatory workshops. So they often get the short end of the stick.”
Reform for the nation’s decades-old chemical rules, known as TSCA, were passed by Congress and signed into law earlier this summer. The new laws, known as the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, give the EPA sweeping authority to regulate chemicals.
“The EPA has never had this authority over every product sold in the U.S. The EPA usually regulates facilities — not goods. Now they’re going to have authority over the entire economy,” Gorsen says.
But it’s up to the EPA to determine exactly how the regulations will be put in place. This is where the comment period comes into play.
The Safety Factor
Within days of the law’s passage, the EPA released a roadmap to how the law will be implemented. According to the agency, drafts for many of the new rules will be published mid-December. Once published, the public comment period typically lasts 180 days. But it could go longer, especially for contentious aspects of the regulations like risk evaluations.
“The statute doesn’t yet say what the safety standard is. So that’s the meat. That’s where the rubber hits the road,” Gorsen says.
According to Gorsen, much of the debate is likely to come down to how the EPA decides when a chemical is “safe.”
“A lot of people think that if something has a hazard trait it should be banned. Some say everything has a hazard trait. So what’s considered ‘safe’ could be a range,” she says.
Why You Should Weigh In
If the rules end up requiring expensive and arduous testing protocols, it's smaller companies that will struggle to absorb the new costs. And even though smaller chemical companies may not have the resources to influence regulatory decision making as much as bigger players, there are a few ways they can be involved to make sure their voices are heard.
The first is to simply keep an eye on the EPA’s Lautenberg home page, read the proposed rules when they come out, and then give feedback to the agency on how it could affect the way you do business.
This is especially important when it comes to the safety standard and firguring out the rules for chemical tests.
“You need to know if there are going to be 14 different rat tests required, or what it’s all going to mean,” Gorsen says.
There are indications that the industry is closely following how Lautenberg rules are unfolding. According to a recent report by Bloomberg BNA, traffic to the Lautenberg page has skyrocketed since the law was passed — it had 37,193 views between June 22 and Aug. 16 — which is a good sign that there could be a high level of involvement in the rulemaking process.
Aside from directly communicating with the EPA, Gorsen recommends being involved in industry trade groups like the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) or the National Small Business Association (NSBA). Both of these groups may be more keyed into regulatory affairs and have a better idea of how to influence the process.
Keep an eye on Chem.Info for updates on the EPA comment period once it begins.