EPA Administer Assembles Task Force for Superfund Restructuring

On May 22, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt created a task force to improve the Superfund remediation process. He asked the Superfund task force to find ways to “utilize alternative and non-traditional approaches for financing site cleanups.” The task force’s recommendations were due by June 21, 2017. EPA has not yet announced its recommendations.

Creation of the task force was announced one day before the Trump Administration released its budget proposal for fiscal year 2018. The proposal would cut the EPA’s budget by 31.4 percent. In the proposed budget, Superfund spending is reduced by 25 percent — $330 million. Such drastic cuts may not be approved by Congress.

Future management of the Superfund program may rely on called the “Superfund Alternative Approach” to streamline efforts. Under the Superfund Alternative Approach sites are not added to the National Priorities List. However, the Alternative Approach uses the same standards and investigation process as sites addressed under the conventional approach. The Superfund Alternative Approach can’t be used at every site, just those with a willing, capable potential responsible party who will negotiate and sign an agreement with EPA to perform the investigation or cleanup. In addition, sites managed under the Alternative Approach are not eligible for federal cleanup funds. This process cannot be used to remove sites from the National Priorities List, which may frustrate companies working towards permanent resolution of remediation obligations.

EPA Seeking Nominations for the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) is a chartered Federal Advisory Committee, and was established pursuant to the Clean Air Act (CAA) to provide advice, information, and recommendations to the EPA Administrator on the scientific and technical aspects of air quality criteria and National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Members of the CASAC include non-EPA scientists, engineers, and physicians who are nationally and internationally recognized experts in their respective fields. Members are appointed by the EPA Administrator for a three-year term and serve as Special Government Employees who provide independent expert advice to the agency.

EPA is seeking nominations for the “health chair” of the CASAC. The CAA requires that at least one member be a physician who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has expertise in health effects of air pollution. EPA is interested in physicians who have knowledge and experience in air quality relating to criteria pollutants (ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and lead). Nominations are due by July 27.

You can read the Federal Register notice here.

EPA Issues Three Final Rules under New TSCA

On June 22, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released pre-publication Federal Register notices of the final framework actions under the new Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The final rules include:

  • The Inventory Reset Rule (AKA the Active-Inactive Rule), which requires industry to report chemicals manufactured, imported, or processed in the U.S. over the past ten years;
  • The Prioritization Process Rule, which establishes EPA’s process and criteria for identifying High-Priority chemicals for risk evaluation and Low-Priority chemicals for which risk evaluation is not warranted at this time; and
  • The Risk Evaluation Process Rule, which establishes EPA’s process for evaluating High-Priority chemicals to determine whether or not they present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment.

EPA also published pre-publication notices concerning the scopes of the risk evaluations to be conducted for the first ten chemical substances under new TSCA, and a guidance document to assist interested persons in developing and submitting draft risk evaluations.

Ninth Circuit Vacates EPA Conditional Approval of Nanoscale Silver Antimicrobial

On May 30, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated EPA’s conditional approval of Nanosilva NSPW-L30SWS, a type of antimicrobial silver registered as a materials preservative for textiles and plastics.  NRDC v. United States EPA, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 9360  (9th Cir. 2017).  The active ingredient in the product is nanoscale silver.  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Food Safety (CFS), and the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA), appealed the conditional approval. The Ninth Circuit found that EPA had not sufficiently supported its finding that early approval was in the public interest – a requirement for conditional approval under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  EPA granted conditional approval of the product in May 2015.

Under FIFRA, EPA is permitted to issue conditional registration for a pesticide containing an active ingredient not contained in any currently registered pesticide, only where: 1) use of that pesticide will not cause any unreasonable adverse effect on the environment, and 2) use of the pesticide is in the public interest.  7 U.S.C. § 136a(c)(7)(C).  The Ninth Circuit explained that the Agency considers this type of conditional registration when it has not received sufficient data to determine that long-term use of a pesticide is reasonable.  Id.  In its decision to grant conditional approval of NSPW, EPA found that use of the pesticide is in the public interest because it has the “potential” to reduce the amount of silver released into the environment.

NRDC, CFS, and ICTA disputed the factual premises underlying the EPA’s public-interest finding.  Petitioners challenged the Agency’s findings that:

  • NSPW has a lower application rate (e., it uses less silver) than conventional-silver pesticides;
  • NSPW has a lower mobility rate (e., it is less likely to release silver into the environment in detectable quantities); and
  • Current users of conventional-silver pesticides will switch to NSPW and/or that NSPW will not be incorporated into new products (i.e., registration of NSPW will reduce the amount of silver pesticides used).

While the Ninth Circuit found that EPA’s analysis supported finding both lower application rate and lower mobility rate, it also found that the Agency “impermissibly relie[d] on unsubstantiated assumptions” to support the finding that the conditional registration of NSPW will reduce the amount of silver pesticides used.  EPA had concluded that use of NSPW is in the public interest because it has the “potential” to reduce the amount of silver released into the environment. The Ninth Circuit held that EPA’s conclusion requires two interrelated and unstated assumptions.  The Ninth Circuit found that

  • EPA assumed that current users of conventional-silver pesticides will replace those pesticides with NSPW (“the substitution assumption”); and
  • EPA assumed that NSPW will not be incorporated into new products to the extent that such incorporation would actually increase the amount of silver released into the environment (“the no-new-products assumption”).

The Ninth Circuit held that neither assumptions are supported by substantial evidence.[1]  In fact, the Ninth Circuit found that if the EPA’s substitution and no-new-products assumptions are incorrect, NSPW may actually increase the amount of silver released into the environment, which would contravene the identified public interest.  The Ninth Circuit explained that

EPA may not satisfy the [substantial evidence] requirement by simply finding that a pesticide has the “potential” to be in the public interest—especially where the pesticide also has the “potential” to contravene the public interest. Accordingly, where an essential premise of a public-interest finding is only supported by bare assumptions, as in the present case, we will find substantial evidence lacking.

NRDC v. United States EPA, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 9360  (9th Cir. 2017).

[1] The Ninth Circuit held EPA to the substantial evidence standard as dictated by FIFRA.  7 U.S.C. § 136n(b).  The Court explained that “[s]ubstantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla but less than a preponderance; it is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Nat. Res. Def. Council v. EPA (NRDC), 735 F.3d 873, 877 (9th Cir. 2013).