I have closely tracked the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Chemicals Program for many years. Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that the program does not serve the agency’s mission and the public interest, but rather the interests of the chemical industry. Despite the major reforms Congress made to the program in 2016 when it overhauled the Toxic Substances Control Act, the New Chemicals Program is so badly broken that nothing less than a total reset can fix the problems.
Revelations emerging through responses Environmental Defense Fund finally received to a FOIA request we made two years ago, and through the disclosures of courageous whistleblowers who did or still work in the New Chemicals Program, confirm what I have long suspected, looking in from the outside. The program:
- uses practices that allow the chemical industry to easily access and hold sway over EPA reviews and decisions on the chemicals they seek to bring to market;
- has developed a deeply embedded culture of secrecy that blocks public scrutiny and accountability;
- employs policies – often unwritten – that undermine Congress’ major reforms to the law and reflect only industry viewpoints; and
- operates through a management system and managers, some still in place, that regularly prioritize industry’s demands for quick decisions that allow their new chemicals onto the market with no restrictions, over reliance on the best science and protection of public and worker health.
Many of the worst abuses coming to light took place during the Trump administration, and it is tempting to believe the change in administrations has fixed the problems. It has not. The damaging practices, culture, policies and management systems predate the last administration and laid the foundation for the abuses. Highly problematic decisions continue to be made even in recent weeks.
I am encouraged by recent statements and actions of Dr. Michal Freedhoff, Assistant Administrator of the EPA office that oversees TSCA implementation. They clearly are moves in the right direction. But it is essential that the deep-rooted, systemic nature of the problem be forthrightly acknowledged and forcefully addressed.
Let me provide some examples of each of the problems I just noted…