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Senate Committee Hearing on Proposed FY 2023 EPA Budget Includes Discussion of TSCA and FIFRA Issues
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on April 6, 2022, on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget. The only witness was EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. In his written testimony, Regan states that EPA has significant responsibilities under amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to ensure the safety of chemicals in or entering commerce and addressing unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. President Biden’s proposed budget would provide $124 million and 449 full-time equivalents (FTE) to implement TSCA, an increase of more than $60 million. According to Regan, these resources will support EPA-initiated chemical risk evaluations, issue protective regulations in accordance with statutory timelines, and establish a pipeline of priority chemicals for risk evaluation. EPA “also has significant responsibility under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to screen new pesticides before they reach the market and ensure pesticides already in commerce are safe.” Regan notes that in addition, EPA is responsible for complying with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and ensuring that federally endangered and threatened species are not harmed when EPA registers pesticides. The FY 2023 budget includes an additional $4.9 million to enable EPA’s pesticide program to integrate ESA requirements in conducting risk assessments and making risk management decisions that protect federally threatened and endangered species from exposure to new active ingredients.
After Regan gave his opening statement, the Committee asked questions. Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) stated that President Biden requested $124 million and hiring of about 450 FTEs to implement the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Lautenberg Act). According to Carper, despite the previous Administration’s failure to request funds to support implementation of the Lautenberg Act, EPA professionals have worked hard to meet the aspirations and mandates of the Act. Carper asked Regan to describe the resource challenges that the TSCA program is currently facing and how EPA plans to fulfill its obligations under the Lautenberg Act if Congress appropriates the increase in resources requested by the Biden Administration. Regan stated that the previous Administration missed nine of ten deadlines for chemical risk review evaluations. Meanwhile, the workload for the Biden EPA has doubled, with 20 high-priority risk evaluations to do and ten risk management rules to write, but EPA is still working with the same budget that it had before the Lautenberg Act. As a result, EPA has only about 50 percent of the resources that it thinks it needs to review the safety of new chemicals quickly and in the way that the law requires. The proposed FY 2023 budget reflects what EPA thinks it will actually take to implement the Lautenberg Act in the way that Congress and stakeholders expect and deserve. According to Regan, EPA would put those resources to good use. EPA wants to keep pace with what Congress requested.
According to Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), the North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner sent a letter to EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) (still waiting for a response) about unused stocks of chlorpyrifos. In August 2021, EPA issued a final rule revoking all tolerances for chlorpyrifos. Cramer stated that under the final rule, farmers and retailers have six months to dispose of it. To date, there has been very little to no guidance on how to dispose of it, and without guidance from EPA, there is worry about improper disposal or illegal use. Cramer asked Regan if he could provide some assurance that EPA is not going to seek to punish growers that currently have product in their possession. Regan responded that in this case, like others, EPA found itself in a situation where, because of inaction over decades, the court put it on a timeline to take action. Regan stated that he can commit that the EPA regional office is working with North Dakota now to think about how to address the situation.
As Regan noted in his testimony before the Committee, the Lautenberg Act includes statutory deadlines that EPA must meet as it evaluates existing chemicals. In addition to these mandates, after reviewing the risk evaluations completed by the previous Administration, the Biden EPA announced June 30, 2021, its plans to review and address certain issues. The Biden EPA is working to complete its revisions to the final risk evaluations and move to the risk management rulemaking stage. Under the previous Administration, EPA, in 2020 and 2021, directed significant energy to developing risk evaluations for the “Next 20” chemicals designated as high priority for risk evaluations through the TSCA prioritization process, completing scoping documents in September 2020. In light of the Biden Administration’s revised approach to risk evaluations, however, those scoping documents will need to be revisited and revised as appropriate, and work is expected to continue through 2022 and probably much of 2023. EPA also now has received four manufacturer-requested risk evaluations, three of which have been granted as of mid-December 2021, and one of which is pending. Without significant resources, the Biden EPA will struggle to meet the ambitious goals of the Lautenberg Act.