White House moves to weaken EPA rule on toxic compounds

April 21, 2020

Read the full article by Ellen KnickMeyer (AP News)

The Trump White House has intervened to weaken one of the few public health protections pursued by its own administration, a rule to limit the use of a toxic industrial compound in consumer products, according to communications between the White House and Environmental Protection Agency.

The documents show that the White House Office of Management and Budget formally notified the EPA by email last July that it was stepping into the crafting of the rule on the compound, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, used in nonstick and stain-resistant frying pans, rugs, and countless other consumer products.

The White House repeatedly pressed the agency to agree to a major loophole that could allow substantial imports of the PFAS-tainted products to continue, greatly weakening the proposed rule. EPA pushed back on the White House demand for the loophole, known as a “safe harbor” provision for industry.

Pushed again in January, the agency responded, “EPA opposes proposing a safe harbor provision, but is open to a neutrally-worded request for comment from the public” on the White House request.

The rule is one of the few concrete steps that the Trump administration has taken to deal with growing contamination by PFAS industrial compounds. The EPA has declared dating back to 2018 that consumer exposure to the substances was a “national priority” that the agency was confronting “aggressively.”

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, who obtained the documents revealing the White House intervention, and public-health advocates say the White House action was led by Nancy Beck, a former chemical industry executive now detailed to President Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers.

In a letter sent Friday to the EPA, Carper charged the White House pressure amounts to unusual intervention in what had been the EPA’s in-house efforts to regulate imports tainted with the compound. Trump has nominated Beck to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a government panel charged with protecting Americans from harm by thousands of kinds of consumer goods.

Asked about the White House actions, EPA spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said in an email that “consulting with other federal agencies on actions is a normal process across government,” and that “EPA is often required to engage in an interagency review process led by OMB.”

“It is routine for the agency to receive input from all of our stakeholders, including our federal partners,” Schiermeyer wrote.