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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a fully remote hearing on March 10, 2021, on “The Path Forward:  Restoring the Vital Mission of EPA.”  According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s March 3, 2021, press release, the hearing will examine the “critical need to restore the mission” of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and how EPA “can address climate change and other urgent challenges to the nation’s environment and public health.”  Subcommittee members will hear “from former EPA leaders about what steps must be taken to undo the damage done to the agency over the last four years and to re-empower it to fulfill its mission.”  The hearing will be available via live webcast.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson , Lisa M. Campbell, and Carla N. Hutton
 
Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, wrote to Amazon Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chair Jeff Bezos on October 7, 2020, requesting that he launch an investigation into the safety of Amazon’s product line, AmazonBasics, and answer a series of questions pertaining to the company’s product safety and recall practices.  The Committee’s October 7, 2020, press release notes that the request comes after a CNN investigation found that many of AmazonBasics’ electronic products “have exploded, caught fire, sparked, melted, or otherwise created hazardous situations at rates well above comparable products.”  According to the press release, many of these products were never recalled and continue to be sold.
 
In addition to their request that Bezos initiate an investigation into the safety of AmazonBasics products, Pallone and Schakowsky also seek answers to a series of questions, including:

  • What Amazon-owned products are no longer for sale due at least in part to safety concerns?
     
  • What products -- both Amazon-owned and third party -- have been officially recalled?
     
  • What notification does Amazon provide to customers who have purchased products that are later recalled or found to be unsafe?
     
  • In addition to direct notification, what other kinds of consumer or public outreach does Amazon conduct to ensure consumers properly dispose of, repair, or replace an unsafe product?
     
  • How can consumers find information regarding recalled products? If information is not readily available, why not, and what plans exist to make it available?
     
  • How can consumers report product safety issues to Amazon?
     
  • How many staff does Amazon have devoted to ensuring that products sold on its platform follow all applicable laws and regulations, and that Amazon is in compliance with obligations to notify the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) when a product is suspected of being unsafe?

The letter requests a response no later than October 21, 2020.
 
The letter and request for answers to the questions noted above are another indication of the pressure certain Members in Congress are putting on Amazon to ensure the safety of the products the platform hosts.  Amazon is under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in this regard, as reported in our February 16, 2018, and June 17, 2020, blog items, and this Congressional inquiry seems more of the same.  These efforts will almost certainly cause more pressure on product manufacturers to ensure the products they offer for sale on Amazon are compliant.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On November 13, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. (EST), the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a hearing on “Strengthening Transparency or Silencing Science?  The Future of Science in EPA Rulemaking.”  The Committee will hear from the following witnesses:
 
Panel 1

  • Dr. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development (ORD); EPA Science Advisor.

Panel 2

  • Dr. Linda S. Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); Director of NIEHS, 2009-2019;
     
  • Dr. Mary B. Rice, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center;
     
  • Dr. David Allison, Dean, School of Public Health, Indiana University-Bloomington; Member, “Reproducibility and Replicability in Science” Committee, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and
     
  • Dr. Todd Sherer, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing on “Benign by Design:  Innovations in Sustainable Chemistry” on July 25, 2019.  Witnesses will include:

  • Dr. Tim Persons, Chief Scientist and Managing Director, Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO);
     
  • Dr. John Warner, President and Chief Technology Officer, Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry;
     
  • Dr. Julie Zimmerman, Professor and Senior Associate Dean, School of Forestry and Environmental Studiesa and Deputy Director, Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, Yale University;
     
  • Ms. Anne Kolton, Executive Vice President, Communications, Sustainability, and Market Outreach, American Chemistry Council; and
     
  • Mr. Mitchell Toomey, Director of Sustainability, BASF in North America.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change announced on March 6, 2019, that it will hold a hearing on March 13, 2019, on “Mismanaging Chemical Risks:  EPA’s Failure to Protect Workers.”  The Subcommittee will address how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “is systemically ignoring worker risks in its implementation of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act and other worker protections.”  Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY) stated that protecting vulnerable populations is an essential part of EPA’s mission, but under the Trump Administration, EPA “has systematically undervalued or completely overlooked the risks workers face from exposure to chemicals on the job.  Workers should not have to choose between their health and their jobs.”  Information for the hearing, including the Majority Memorandum, witness list and testimony, and a live webcast, will be posted on the hearing web page as they become available.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Christopher R. Bryant

On January 16, 2019, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to serve as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Mr. Wheeler currently serves as the Acting Administrator, having taken the reins of EPA after former Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July 2018.  An archived webcast of the hearing is available online.  In introducing Mr. Wheeler, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Chair of the EPW Committee, stated: “under Acting Administrator Wheeler’s leadership, the agency has taken a number of significant actions to protect our nation’s environment, while also supporting economic growth.  Acting Administrator Wheeler has led efforts to:  issue common-sense regulatory proposals, like the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, and the revised definition of ‘Waters of the United States’; implement this Committee’s 2016 bipartisan reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act [(TSCA)] in an effective and efficient manner; reduce lead exposure, including through the Federal Lead Action Plan; provide greater regulatory certainty to states, to Tribes, localities, and to the regulated community; and improve enforcement and compliance assistance.  Acting Administrator Wheeler is very well qualified to run the [EPA].”  Republicans on the EPW Committee were supportive of his nomination and actions while serving as the EPA Acting Administrator.  They noted with praise his deregulatory efforts, the repeal and replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, the proposed replacement of the Waters of the United States rule and the proposed repeal of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. 

Democrats on the EPW Committee, however, expressed their disapproval of Mr. Wheeler, as he faced sharp questions from them.  EPW Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) expressed his concern that Mr. Wheeler failed “to moderate some of Scott Pruitt’s most environmentally destructive policies,” adding that “upon examination, Mr. Wheeler’s environmental policies appear to be almost as extreme as his predecessor’s.”  When questioned on his views on climate change by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mr. Wheeler admitted that he believed it was a “huge issue” that should be addressed internationally, but he stopped short of agreeing with it being “one of the greatest crises facing our planet.”  Despite the seeming Democratic opposition to his nomination, Mr. Wheeler is expected to be approved by the EPW Committee and, eventually, the Senate, and likely soon.


 

By Jessie Nguyen and Lynn L. Bergeson

On August 1, 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW Committee) held a hearing entitled “Examining EPA’s Agenda:  Protecting the Environment and Allowing America’s Economy to Grow.”  Testifying at the hearing was Andrew Wheeler, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Acting Administrator.  Witness testimony and an archive of the hearing are available online.  The hearing was intended to provide Wheeler with the opportunity to present himself for the first time in front of the EPW Committee as the Acting Administrator, and to update the EPW Committee on EPA’s agenda since the resignation of Scott Pruitt, EPA’s former Administrator.  Wheeler’s testimony highlighted three main priorities for EPA moving forward:  (1) regulatory certainty between EPA and state/local governments; (2) improvement of programs within EPA; and (3) increased transparency in risk communication.

During the questioning, Wheeler informed the EPW Committee that the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay and the prevention of future lead contamination are high priorities for the Agency.  When questioned by Senator John Boozman (R-AR) about EPA’s relationship with stakeholders, Wheeler stated that clear communication between EPA and its stakeholders is essential before implementing any regulatory action.  EPA is also committed to working with other government agencies to enhance their regulatory process.

Next, the Trump Administration’s decision to roll back auto fuel efficiency and emissions standards, as well as the partial revocation of California’s ability to set its own emissions standards, was met with strong objection from Democratic Senators.  Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) stated that the oil industry is “scared to death that $1 trillion will stay stranded in the pockets of consumers.  That’s why the Trump Administration is moving to roll back these standards.”  Wheeler stated his belief that the roll back in emissions standards has saved American consumers $500 billion dollars and 12,000 lives.  Moving forward, Wheeler wants to come up with a “50-states solution” for emissions standards to address the issue of air pollutants and reduce cross-state pollution.

The topic of chemicals was brought up by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) as he is concerned that EPA’s failure to consider all sources of exposure for risk assessment will pose an unreasonable risk to human health -- especially to vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly.  Senator Booker urged EPA to ban trichloroethylene (TCE) on the applications for which proposed rules were issued and ban methylene chloride since they are known carcinogens with recognized health hazards.  Wheeler said EPA is moving forward with the assessment of these chemicals, but he declined to promise on a definitive timeframe.  Similarly, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) urged EPA to release the toxicological report on perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and set a safety level for PFOS in soil and water.

In response to a question on clean energy by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Wheeler stated he will not give preferential treatment for one source of energy over another; EPA’s role is to regulate pollutants, not to identify a preferential fuel source.  Other miscellaneous topics included Wheeler’s commitment to not abuse his hiring authority.  He expressed a willingness to notify the EPW Committee on EPA’s hiring process.  In response to Senator Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) request, EPA will also make a commitment to reduce lead exposure. 


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham

On April 26, 2018, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt was grilled by Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Environment at a hearing titled The Fiscal Year 2019 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Budget.  The budget was plainly not the primary topic as the House Committee Members covered a lot of ground.  Pruitt fielded many questions and comments from House Democrats on his alleged ethical lapses regarding spending, security details, retaliation towards EPA employees who reportedly questioned his practices, and concerns about a hostile work environment.  Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed concern over the installation of a secure phone booth in his office.  His opening statement addressed these criticisms only vaguely, stating that they are merely a distraction and an attempt to “attack and derail the President’s agenda and these administration’s priorities.”  There were also questions concerning the delay of the proposed rule banning the use of methylene chloride, and criticism regarding EPA’s recent proposed rule to strengthen transparency in regulatory science (the “secret” Science Rule). 

No attempt is made here to summarize the lengthy hearing.

Pruitt’s testimony statement is available here.  It does not contain information on the Science Rule, but it briefly references the implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in a section entitled “Ensuring the Safety of Chemicals in Commerce.”

More information on the many TSCA implementation initiatives is available on our TSCA Reform News & Information webpage, as well as the TSCAblogTM.  A summary of Pruitt’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is available in our blog item “Pruitt Addresses Legacy Issues, TSCA Implementation in Oversight Hearing.” 


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

On March 22, 2018, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt appointed 11 additional members to the Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals.  Under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, the purpose of the Committee is to provide independent advice and expert consultation, at the request of the EPA Administrator, with respect to the scientific and technical aspects of risk assessments, methodologies, and pollution prevention measures or approaches supporting implementation of the Act.  According to EPA, these additional members “will increase the balance of scientific perspectives and add experts with experience in labor, public interest, animal protection and chemical manufacturing and processing to the committee.”  The additional 11 members -- three from non-governmental organizations (NGO), four from industry, and four from academia or governmental organizations -- will supplement the 18 expert members that were appointed on January 19, 2017.  The Committee will meet three to four times a year for two years, and its charter can be extended.  EPA has not yet scheduled the Committee’s first meeting.

Two of the members have reportedly declined the appointment.  Dr. Michael Wilson, National Director for Occupational and Environmental Health at the BlueGreen Alliance, “notified EPA that he was unable to accept the appointment,” according to a spokesperson for the BlueGreen Alliance.  Dr. Jennifer McPartland, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, has also declined the appointment.  Ruthann Rudel, Director of Research at the Silent Spring Institute, stated that she is “collecting some advice and information” and has not decided whether to accept the appointment. 


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson, Susan M. Kirsch, and Margaret R. Graham

On January 30, 2018, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) convened an Oversight Hearing to Receive Testimony from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt.  In a written statement submitted in advance of the hearing, Pruitt described implementation of the new Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, or the “new” Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), as being of “significant importance” and a “top priority for ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace.”  In opening remarks, Senator Tom Carper (Ranking Member of the EPW Committee) (D-DE)) challenged Pruitt’s record on implementing TSCA reform, stating that EPA has not truly used the authority bestowed on it through TSCA to declare that products being sold on the market are safe, therefore, consumers do not have the confidence that they deserve and that Congress intended in passing TSCA.  Pruitt did not respond to this comment, and did not go on to address TSCA implementation in his brief opening remarks.  Instead, Pruitt devoted the bulk of his opening statement to highlighting specific areas where EPA’s environmental protection goals dovetail well with opportunities for economic growth.  These issues/economic opportunities included:  investment in infrastructure to eradicate lead from drinking water within a decade; advancing initiatives that incentivize private companies to take on clean-up projects at abandoned mines; and remediation activities at “Superfund” sites -- hazardous waste sites regulated under the  Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) expressed concern that EPA’s chemical reviews under TSCA were only focusing on new “items” (chemicals) being made, but overlooking “legacy” chemicals already in the environment (e.g., asbestos).  Merkley cited a report that claimed that review of the ten chemicals on the priority list were being “slow-walked.”  In response, Pruitt stated “it is an absolute priority during [EPA’s] first year,” the three TSCA final rules were issued consistent with the implementation schedule in the first year, and the backlog of chemical reviews has been addressed through the addition of resources. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) expressed her concerns regarding the toxic levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that have been found throughout New York State, stating that EPA was not using its TSCA authority to regulate these chemicals, as the implementation final rules “ignored the public’s exposure to the past uses of chemicals called legacy uses” that could still have the potential to contaminate groundwater.  She also stated her concern that due to this oversight, EPA will not likely study the health risks of widespread exposure to chemicals such as PFOS/PFOS.  She requested of Pruitt to revise the TSCA implementation rules to address legacy issues, so that “all uses of a chemical, including legacy uses, are studied.”  Pruitt stated that as PFOA and PFOS have not been manufactured since early 2000, they are in fact legacy uses, and that EPA was “very much going to focus” on this issue.  Gillibrand appeared to be content with his answer, as she did not demand a further commitment from him.  In regards to the Hudson River, Gillibrand requested that data from the sediment sampling be integrated into EPA’s five year review plan regarding the effectiveness of dredging for removing polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) from the Hudson River.  Pruitt stated that EPA was reviewing the samples currently and that there is more work to be done to get clarity on this issue.  Gillibrand requested Pruitt to personally review the final report to ensure that all issues have been addressed and Pruitt confirmed that he would.

Near the close of the hearing, Senator Carper further stated that EPA has failed to follow through on its proposed ban of three highly toxic chemicals that Congress gave it the authority to ban when it enacted TSCA reform:  specifically methylene chloride, tricholoroethylene (TCE), and methylpyrrolidone (NMP), and asked Pruitt to commit to using EPA’s authority to ban them within the next 30 days.  Pruitt responded that they are on the priority list and that he will confirm this with the agency (that they are priorities, not that they will be banned in 30 days).  EPA’s delay in finalizing the bans was among the failures cited in the Senate EPW Minority Staff report, released January 29, 2018, “Basically Backward:  How the Trump Administration is Erasing Decades of Air, Water and Land Protections and Jeopardizing Public Health.”

Several Senators indicated their intention to submit additional questions for the record.  Pruitt has until February 13, 2018, to submit written responses, which will be made available on the EPW Committee website.  The full hearing is available on the EPW Committee’s website.  


 
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