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By Lynn L. Bergeson

On September 15, 2021, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on several U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominees, including Amanda Howe, nominated for Assistant Administrator for Mission Support, and David Uhlmann, nominated for Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Amanda Howe has a long history of public service, including such roles as the Chief Operating Officer for the now-Vice President, Kamala Harris, for the People Presidential Campaign, Acting Chief of Staff for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Trade for Virginia’s then-Governor Mark R. Warner (D), and lead planner of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip’s royal visit to Virginia for then-Governor Tim Kaine (D). Ms. Howe highlighted her extensive career in operations and management during her opening statements to the Committee, noting that if confirmed, she will bring her personal motto of “go for the good” to her position at EPA.

David Uhlmann is the current Director of the Environmental Policy and Law Program at the University of Michigan Law. Prior to academia, Mr. Uhlmann spent 17 years as a federal prosecutor, including seven years with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes section. During his opening statement, Mr. Uhlmann stressed that his time in academia has strengthened his belief in promoting environmental advocacy, noting that he believes that those companies that display ethics, integrity, and environmental stewardship should not be at a competitive disadvantage to those that do not.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Ranking Member of the Committee, asked Ms. Howe how she would transition from the political sphere into governmental management, given President Biden’s initiative to bolster EPA staff. Ms. Howe reiterated her operations management background, noting that throughout her career in public service, she has managed large and complex operations and can think of no better way to serve the public than through the EPA. Senator Capito then asked Mr. Uhlmann about a paper he had written for the Obama Administration. The paper addressed the Clean Energy Standard and carbon taxing, but excluded carbon capture and nuclear energy. Senator Capito questioned how Mr. Uhlmann’s stance on the Clean Energy Standard would align with his EPA nominated role. Mr. Uhlmann responded that while he felt that we need to be seriously addressing climate change, it is the role of Congress to decide how. He stated that his role within EPA would be to help companies comply with any laws that Congress passes and any regulations promulgated by EPA, as well as to bring enforcement actions against companies that violate those laws.

Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) questioned Mr. Uhlmann about his stance on a recent series of White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council recommendations that stated that federal support for technologies such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage were not suitable for Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. Mr. Uhlmann responded that both EJ communities and rural communities have been left behind, and that if confirmed, he would work with states to ensure both communities had access to clean air and water. Senator Lummis and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) each probed Mr. Uhlmann about respective projects that their states were working on with EPA, and asked for a commitment from Mr. Uhlmann that those projects would not go to the wayside. Mr. Uhlmann responded that he believed strongly in a state and federal partnership and that he would work to strengthen that relationship.

Closing the nominations hearing, Committee Chair Thomas Carper (D-DE) asked each nominee a series of questions, including his standard “what question were you not asked that you wish you had been?” Senator Carper posed three questions to Ms. Howe: what attributes of Governor Mark Warner and Governor Tim Kaine did you witness and learn during your time as a public servant; how would you plan on safely bringing the EPA workforce back into the office; and given EPA’s prior cybersecurity breaches, how would you lead EPA’s cybersecurity efforts? Ms. Howe reflected on her time serving each Governor and noted that Mark Warner had the ability to pay attention to detail while still maintaining an eye on the big picture. In her role as EPA Assistant Administrator for Mission Support, she would work to incorporate these lessons by building strong relationships regardless of political party, so that common ground can be found for the common good. From Tim Kaine, Ms. Howe observed that kindness is a strength, and that challenges should be approached with openness, kindness, and integrity.

Ms. Howe expressed concern for the EPA workforce and the challenges they face in keeping themselves and their families safe during Covid. When considering bringing EPA staff back to the office, Ms. Howe stressed the importance of following the science and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. In considering how to move forward, Ms. Howe stated she would use EPA as the resource that it is and consult with staff to understand what aspects of teleworking have been successful. She noted that people’s lives have changed, and reintegrating back to the office will take empathy, openness, and a willingness to listen to concerns. In her response to cybersecurity concerns, Ms. Howe stated that this is an issue that has been and will continue to be a top priority for Mission Support. If confirmed, she plans to work directly with the EPA’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) to identify and sharpen cybersecurity. She also noted that she has no reservations in speaking openly with Congress and to ask for the resources and tools that she needs to tighten EPA cybersecurity measures. The question Ms. Howe would have liked to be asked was “how do you feel about your nomination to the role of Assistant Administrator for Mission Support?” She feels excited. She is looking forward to recruiting new staff to EPA and feels that it is a vibrant and exciting place to work.

Senator Carper’s closing questions to Mr. Uhlmann included: what in your extensive experience prosecuting environmental crimes and enforcement actions can you bring to this position in helping EPA identify and prevent violations before they occur; and what question were you not asked that you wish you had been? Mr. Uhlmann discussed his long history as a prosecutor working with the career staff of EPA in trials, as well as his collaborative work alongside EPA civil attorneys. Mr. Uhlmann emphasized his deep appreciation for the career staff at EPA, highlighting that unlike his predecessors, he is not new to this area and can “hit the ground running.” Overall, Mr. Uhlmann focused on the need for response. The most salient lesson he observed from his time as a prosecutor is that pollution has real consequences on the lives of Americans and their communities.

Mr. Uhlmann would have liked to have been asked what his top priorities would be as Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. He focused on the threat of climate change and the effects that environmental harms have on communities, stating that these concerns should be at the root of enforcement and compliance actions. He went on to address staffing issues within EPA enforcement and compliance regional offices, and the advocacy he would engage in to procure the necessary resources to strengthen those offices. Maintaining that we cannot regulate our way out of every environmental problem, Mr. Uhlmann focused on the importance of promoting ethics, integrity, and environmental stewardship within the business community to help solve these problems. Rounding out his list of priorities, Mr. Uhlmann stated that there is no room for politics in enforcement, rather it is about the law and the facts.

Commentary

The hearing proceeded with a jovial atmosphere and at times felt almost routine in nature. There were no real surprises or hard hitting questions posed to either nominee. Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) posed only one question to Mr. Uhlmann, centered on the niche issue of Clean Air Act (CAA) violations for modifying street vehicle emissions systems to convert them to racing vehicles. Senator Kelly expressed concern over how this statutory prohibition hampered the sport of street racing in Arizona. Mr. Uhlmann pivoted to his work on the VW emissions case and the environmental consequences of that scandal, but did not commit to a stance on Senator Kelly’s proposed amendments to the CAA. The line of questioning then diverted towards Senator Kelly’s wife, Gabby Gifford, and her love of street motorcycle racing. The hearing itself incorporated a decent amount of story-telling on behalf of the Committee members, adding to a sense of collegiality. Throughout the hearing, both nominees emanated passion for their possible future roles within EPA and focused on collaboration as a necessary element moving forward.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now accepting nominations for the 2022 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards from companies or institutions that have developed a new green chemistry process or product that helps protect human health and the environment. EPA states that in support of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis, it is adding a new award category to recognize technology that reduces or eliminates greenhouse gas emissions. EPA will hold a webinar during Pollution Prevention (P2) Week, on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, from 2:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. (EDT), to educate stakeholders on the Green Chemistry Challenge Awards and the nomination process. Nominations are due to EPA by December 10, 2021. According to EPA, an independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute will formally judge the 2022 nominations and make recommendations to EPA for the 2022 winners. EPA anticipates giving awards to outstanding green chemistry technologies in six categories in June 2022.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on August 10, 2021, that it added 36 chemicals to the Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL). EPA states that the SCIL “is a living list of chemicals, by functional-use class, that EPA’s Safer Choice program has evaluated and determined meet Safer Choice criteria.” Listed chemicals “are among the safest for their functional use.” According to EPA, the SCIL is a “critical resource” that can be used by many different stakeholders, including:

  • Product manufacturers that use the SCIL to help them make high-functioning products that contain safer ingredients;
  • Chemical manufacturers that use the SCIL to promote the safer chemicals they manufacture;
  • Retailers that use the SCIL to help shape their sustainability programs; and
  • Environmental and health advocates that use the SCIL to support their work with industry to encourage the use of the safest possible chemistry.

EPA’s Safer Choice program certifies products containing ingredients that have met the program’s human health and environmental safety criteria. Companies can use the Safer Choice label on products that meet the Safer Choice Standard. EPA’s website contains a complete list of Safer Choice-certified products. EPA states that in the coming year, it hopes to expand the Safer Choice program “to make products containing safer chemicals increasingly available to underserved communities, including communities of color and low-income communities.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on July 13, 2021, that Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly initiative now includes cleaning and other products certified by EPA’s Safer Choice program. According to EPA, Safer Choice is now one of 30 sustainability certifications highlighted under Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly initiative that helps customers shop for more than 75,000 products through the company’s online store. EPA notes that highlighting Safer Choice-certified products makes it easier for consumers to locate products that contain safer chemical ingredients without sacrificing quality or performance. Products identified as Climate Pledge Friendly are distinguished on Amazon’s website by an hourglass-with-wings symbol. The company also provides its customers with detailed web pages that include information on how and why products are certified as sustainable.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On June 24, 2021, a “unique and broad group” of chemical manufacturers, brand owners, environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO), states, and municipalities sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies to express their “strong support” for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safer Choice Program and to encourage that the program be funded fully. The letter asks that the following language be included in the report:

The Committee supports the Safer Choice program and directs that the program be funded and operated at least at levels consistent with Fiscal Year 2014, adjusted for inflation.

According to the letter, in the last quarter of 2020, EPA reorganized the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), dissolving the Safer Choice branch and reassigning most staff to the areas of OCSPP. The letter states that “[a]s a result, the program is now severely under-resourced with approximately four full-time staff.” The Biden-Harris EPA has taken steps to restore the program, but EPA still faces resource constraints.

The letter describes how companies across the value chain use the Safer Choice brand to advance their individual safer chemical initiatives. Chemical manufacturers invested in developing safer chemicals now listed on the Safer Choice’s Safer Chemicals Ingredients List (SCIL). Brand owners and product manufacturers have reformulated products using the SCIL to obtain Safer Choice certification. Major retailers specify the Safer Choice label as a verifiable way to meet corporate goals laid out in public-facing chemicals policies.

According to the letter, the Safer Choice Program also provides value to entities outside of the supply chain. States and municipalities rely on the Safer Choice Program “because it is the only third-party program that requires all ingredients to be screened for hazards instead of simply using a restricted substances list.” NGOs and consumers “find significant value in an authoritative government program that can be trusted to vet safer chemicals and products.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On June 14, 2021, the Senate confirmed by voice vote Michal Freedhoff to be the Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As reported in our January 22, 2021, blog item, Freedhoff was onboarded in January 2021 as Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. On April 14, 2021, President Joseph Biden nominated Freedhoff for Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. According to Biden’s announcement, Freedhoff has more than 20 years of government experience, most recently as the Minority Director of Oversight for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. She began her Congressional service in 1996 in then-Representative Ed Markey’s (D-MA) office as a Congressional Science and Engineering fellow after receiving a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Rochester. Freedhoff also served on the staffs of the House Science Committee, the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Natural Resources Committee. The announcement states that Freedhoff’s legislative work includes the 2016 re-authorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), 2019 legislation to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination, the fuel economy provisions in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, and a law requiring the creation of an online database of potential consumer product safety defects.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson
 
On June 15, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced and recognized the winners of the 2021 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. According to EPA’s announcement, this year’s winners have developed new and innovative green chemistry technologies that provide solutions to significant environmental challenges and spur innovation. The announcement was made during the American Chemical Society (ACS) Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. Co-sponsored by EPA and ACS, the Green Chemistry Challenge Awards celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Further details are available here.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson

On May 28, 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration submitted President Joseph Biden’s budget for fiscal year 2022 (FY 2022) to Congress. According to EPA’s May 28, 2021, press release, the budget request advances “key EPA priorities, including tackling climate change, advancing environmental justice, protecting public health, improving infrastructure, creating jobs, and supporting and rebuilding the EPA workforce.” The President’s FY 2022 budget request supports:

  • Rebuilding Infrastructure and Creating Jobs: The budget provides $882 million for the Superfund Remedial program to clean up some of the nation’s most contaminated land, reduce emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases (GHG) from existing and abandoned infrastructure, and respond to environmental emergencies, oil spills, and natural disasters;
     
  • Protecting Public Health: The budget includes $75 million to accelerate toxicity studies and fund research to inform the regulatory developments of designating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances while setting enforceable limits for PFAS. In FY 2022, EPA will advance public health by providing an additional $15 million and 87 full-time equivalent employees (FTE) to build agency capacity in managing chemical safety and toxic substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA);
     
  • Tackling the Climate Crisis with the Urgency Science Demands: The FY 2022 budget recognizes the opportunity in tackling the climate crisis by developing the technologies and solutions that will drive new markets and create good paying jobs. The budget restores the Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program and increases base funding by more than $60 million, including $30 million for breakthrough research through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C) with DOE. The budget provides an additional $6.1 million and 14 FTEs to implement the recently enacted American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act and reduce potent GHGs while supporting new manufacturing in the United States;
     
  • Advancing Environmental Justice and Civil Rights: The budget includes more than $900 million in investments for environmental justice-related work, collectively known as EPA’s Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice Initiative, elevating environmental justice as a top priority across the agency. The budget also proposes a new national program dedicated to environmental justice to further that goal;
     
  • Supporting States, Tribes, and Regional Offices: Almost half of the total budget, $5.1 billion, will support states, tribes, and localities through the State and Tribal Assistance Grants account;
     
  • Prioritizing Science and Enhancing the Workforce: The FY 2022 budget includes an increase of 1,026 FTEs “to stop the downward slide in the size of EPA’s workforce in recent years to better meet the mission.” Within this increase are 114 FTEs to propel and expand EPA’s research programs to ensure the agency has the science programs that communities demand from EPA. Also included are 86 additional FTEs to support the criminal and civil enforcement programs to ensure that environmental laws are followed.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has prepared a strategic plan for the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) for fiscal years (FY) 2021-2023. The strategic plan outlines how OPPT intends to fulfill its obligations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA), and related EPA policies and procedures “in ways that value science, protect people and the environment, and increase transparency for stakeholders and the general public.” The strategic plan includes new vision, mission, and values statements for OPPT. Priority areas include:

  • New Chemicals: The New Chemicals Program manages potential risks to human health and the environment from chemicals new to the marketplace. The program identifies conditions to be placed on the use of new chemicals before they enter into commerce;
  • Existing Chemicals: TSCA requires EPA to evaluate the safety of existing chemicals through prioritization, risk evaluation, and risk management. Ensuring the safety of existing chemicals requires collecting and analyzing information about the chemicals, developing additional information, conducting analyses to evaluate risk, and taking regulatory action on proper conditions of use for each chemical;
  • Pollution Prevention/Safer Choice/Toxics Release Inventory (TRI): OPPT supports a suite of programs that are intended to reduce, eliminate, or prevent pollution at its source as an alternative to pollution control and waste disposal. Safer Choice helps consumers, businesses, and purchasers find products that contain ingredients that are safer for human health and the environment. The TRI Program collects information to track industry progress in reducing waste generation and moving toward safer waste management alternatives;
  • Transparency and Stakeholder Engagement: OPPT is committed to providing the public with the information needed to understand EPA’s chemical evaluations. It continually seeks more productive means of engaging with interested stakeholders through public comment during rulemaking, Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) workgroups, and other means;
  • Human Capital: OPPT strives to provide a healthy and supportive working environment, support for career development, and communication on issues that are important to its colleagues. It closely collaborates with its partners in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention’s (OCSPP) Office of Program Support to ensure that the basics of being an OPPT employee, such as timekeeping, personnel actions, and equipment, are easy to manage; and
  • Efficiency and Enabling Tools: OPPT’s priority areas depend on a wide range of data from manufacturers, researchers, and the public. Its employees need to know how to work with these data and to have access to tools that facilitate access to and analysis of these data. OPPT is committed to increasing its ability to manage projects effectively through a unified approach that ensures timely deliverables, increases its ability to track its work, and simplifies its processes.
Tags: TSCA, EPA, OPPT

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

EPA announced on March 29, 2021, that it is evaluating its policies, guidance, templates, and regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) new chemicals program to ensure they “adhere to statutory requirements,” the Biden-Harris Administration’s executive orders, and other directives. EPA identified several instances where its approach for making determinations and managing risks associated with new chemicals can, according to EPA, more closely align with TSCA’s requirements to ensure protections for human health and the environment, including the use of significant new use rules (SNUR) and assumptions related to worker exposures. EPA states that it will stop issuing determinations of “not likely to present an unreasonable risk” based on the existence of proposed SNURs. According to EPA, “[r]ather than excluding reasonably foreseen conditions of use from EPA’s review of a new substance by means of a SNUR, Congress anticipated that EPA would review all conditions of use when making determinations on new chemicals and, where appropriate, issue orders to address potential risks.” Going forward, when EPA concludes that one or more uses may present an unreasonable risk, or when EPA believes that it lacks the information needed to make a safety finding, EPA will issue an order to address those potential risks.

EPA states that as has been the “long-standing practice,” it intends to continue issuing SNURs following TSCA Section 5(e) and 5(f) orders for new chemicals to ensure the requirements imposed on the submitter via an order apply to any person who manufactures or processes the chemical in the future. EPA notes that this ensures that other manufacturers of the same new chemical substance are held to the same conditions as the submitter subject to the TSCA Section 5(e) or 5(f) order.

EPA states that it now intends to ensure necessary protections for workers identified in its review of new chemicals through regulatory means. According to the announcement, where EPA identifies a potential unreasonable risk to workers that could be addressed with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazard communication, EPA will no longer assume that workers are protected adequately under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) worker protection standards and updated safety data sheets (SDS). Instead, EPA will identify the absence of worker safeguards as “reasonably foreseen” conditions of use and mandate necessary protections through a TSCA Section 5(e) order, as appropriate.

Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. Commentary

The first policy change -- that the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) will no longer employ the “non-order SNUR” construction to regulate new chemicals without an order -- was somewhat predictable. This construction, since its inception, has led to questions about whether this interpretation meets the requirements under TSCA Section 5. In our view, EPA issuing a SNUR to prohibit conditions of use that EPA identifies as potentially leading to an unreasonable risk was an appropriate and expeditious means to achieve the protective end (the TSCA regulation) without the inefficiency and delays associated with the development of a consent order. EPA would only use this option when EPA concluded the intended conditions of use were not likely to present an unreasonable risk. It is not clear why a SNUR is viewed as being less protective than an order, when an order applies only to the premanufacture notice (PMN) submitter and a SNUR applies to all actors in the supply chain. EPA is required to promulgate a SNUR that conforms to an order absent a reason otherwise. The claim that undertaking a condition of use that is defined in a SNUR as a significant new use “requires only notification to EPA” misrepresents the rigor of the significant new use notice (SNUN) process. A SNUN functions just like a PMN, with a similar level of effort required on the submitter’s and EPA’s parts and nearly identical determination outcomes (a consent order, modification of the existing SNUR, or revocation of the existing SNUR if warranted), so saying that a SNUN is “just a notification to EPA” is the equivalent of stating that a PMN is “just a notification to EPA.” Detractors might also claim that orders include testing, but that presumes that testing is required for EPA to make an informed decision. If EPA can, as it routinely does, make a decision based on conservative assumptions with analogs, models, and information provided by the submitter, EPA can similarly make an informed decision about what measures are necessary to achieve its protective goal without new test data. In Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.’s (B&C®) view, this policy change will add marginal, if any, protective benefit at a significant increase in effort by both EPA and the submitter.

EPA’s decision that it no longer views use of PPE as reasonably foreseeable is an unwelcome and unprincipled development. B&C, on behalf of the TSCA New Chemicals Coalition (NCC), provided, at OPPT’s request, a robust data set that demonstrated that proper PPE is rarely not used in an industrial/commercial setting. A database of 40 years of OSHA violations contained very few glove, goggle, and general dermal protection violations -- all obvious violations to any inspector. The marginal number of OSHA violations supports the NCC’s view that standard PPE use is both reasonably foreseeable and highly likely and demonstrably so. Today’s unexplained reversal is difficult to reconcile with these facts. If EPA proceeds to issue orders for every PMN that may present a risk if workers do not take routine protective measures, then EPA will be required to regulate nearly every PMN in which EPA identifies a hazard other than “low hazard” for health and ecotoxicity, as was EPA’s practice when the Lautenberg amendments were passed in 2016. As we have stated previously, that would mean that EPA will be implementing TSCA as a hazard-based law, instead of the clear risk-based law that it is.


 
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