Just before Thanksgiving, the White House quietly released the 2013 Unified Agenda, which contains information on a broad range of upcoming regulatory actions, as well as agencies’ regulatory plans detailing the most important significant regulatory and deregulatory actions they expect to propose or finalize during the coming year. On Jan. 7, agencies published in the Federal Register their regulatory flexibility agendas describing a subset of regulatory actions under development that may have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. While some important health and safety rules are slated to move forward, the Unified Agenda indicates that many long-awaited actions will not advance as proposed or final rules this year.
This December will mark the fifth anniversary of a massive spill of coal ash in Tennessee that destroyed three houses and damaged more than 40 others. This event sparked intensified calls for the regulation of coal ash, a waste by-product produced when coal is burned. Federal efforts to deal with the problem of coal ash have progressed slowly, but agency action on the issue may be gaining momentum in light of recent policy developments. Meanwhile, coal industry proponents in Congress are revamping legislative efforts to thwart national protections against coal waste.
A new state law addressing toxic flame retardants recently enacted in California is the latest in a string of successful state efforts to improve chemical safety. In response to insufficient federal controls on toxic chemicals, many states have passed or proposed their own policies to protect residents from the risks posed by hazardous chemicals. In the absence of comprehensive national protections, it is imperative that states take the lead in addressing risks to health and safety.
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) announced they were moving forward with a much-needed rulemaking to clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Enforcement of the law has been hindered by years of uncertainty about agencies' regulatory jurisdiction over certain wetlands and waterways. On Sept. 17, agencies submitted a draft joint rulemaking for interagency review that would provide greater clarity and help ensure vital waters are covered by the CWA. However, protracted review processes and industry pushback could further extend the uncertainty and leave some waters unprotected.
In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed two rules to protect the public from the risks of formaldehyde exposure. The first rule sets emissions standards for formaldehyde in composite wood products; the second establishes requirements for third-party certifications of products subject to those emissions limits. The use of third-party programs to assess regulatory compliance is growing as agencies try to stretch scarce resources, raising troubling questions about enforcement of important standards and safeguards.
August is National Water Quality Month, and efforts to clean and protect water resources have never been more important. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced new initiatives to reduce water pollution and modernize existing clean water programs. In addition, the agency expects to propose improved drinking water standards within the year, according to the latest Unified Regulatory Agenda. Still, EPA has yet to address a number of serious health and safety risks related to water quality.
On July 18, the Senate confirmed Gina McCarthy to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ending a 136-day delay. Nominated by President Obama in March, McCarthy was finally cleared by a bipartisan vote of 59-40.
Last week, members of the House hosted an expert panel discussion to set the record straight on recurring anti-regulatory myths and dangerous legislative proposals. Aptly titled "Anti-Regulatory Myths: What Regulatory Critics Don't Tell You," the congressional briefing highlighted the importance of much-needed safeguards and debunked the most common misconceptions surrounding the regulatory process and the impacts of rules.
On May 23, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) reintroduced the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), a serious threat to environmental standards, workplace safety rules, public health, and financial reform regulations. The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2013, (S. 1029, and its counterpart in the House, H.R. 2122), is the latest version of a bill first introduced in 2011 and then again in 2012. The seemingly innocuous legislation is a drastic overhaul of the Administrative Procedure Act that would undermine the regulatory process. Advertised by its sponsors as a bipartisan proposal to improve rulemaking, the RAA would actually do the opposite.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently rejected industry challenges to an agency's decision to list the chemical styrene in the Twelfth Report on Carcinogens as "reasonably anticipated" to be a cancer-causing agent. A major styrene trade association and a manufacturer of the substance had sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for including styrene in the report.
Recently disclosed documents show that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) weakened a proposed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety rule. During the regulatory review process, OIRA removed important safety testing requirements from the "preventative controls" rule, which were intended to prevent foodborne pathogens from entering the food supply. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. OIRA has a long track record of changing the draft rules it reviews, often weakening them to appease regulated entities. In this case, the public was made aware of the rule revisions only because FDA followed the requirement to disclose changes made during OIRA review.
Federal agencies have started feeling the impact of the across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, that went into effect March 1. Plans to furlough employees and cut programs are underway at many of the agencies charged with issuing and enforcing public health and safety standards. For the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these additional funding cuts will further drain already decreasing resources and impair the agency's ability to protect our air, water, and health.
As committees of the 113th Congress begin to implement their agendas, it is increasingly apparent that environmental and health standards, and the science serving as the basis for these protections, will remain a favorite target of anti-regulatory legislators. Last session's industry-supported proposals to change scientific assessment programs would undermine environmental, health, and safety standards, yet they are likely to reappear. Meanwhile, new investigations underscore that these measures ignore the real impediments to improving the credibility and usefulness of agency science and risk assessments.