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EPA Quietly Withdraws Two Proposed Chemical Safety Rules

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WASHINGTON, DC- JULY 17: The headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images) | Getty

WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency this week quietly withdrew two draft rules dealing with the regulation of chemicals. The potential rules were in limbo at the Office of Management for several years.

One of the rules was a proposal to add Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical included in many water bottles and other plastic products that has been linked to a number of potential health concerns, to the list of "chemicals of concern" that would be subject to more scrutiny. The EPA also proposed listing eight different types of phthalates, another group of chemicals often used in plastic products, and several types of flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

The EPA first submitted the proposal to OMB in May 2010, stating that the agency was "concerned that the hazards of these substances and the magnitude of human and/or environmental exposure indicates that they may present an unreasonable risk to human health and/or the environment." The Toxic Substances Control Act allows the EPA to flag chemicals of concern for further analysis. That rule had been at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the division of OMB that is supposed to review agency rules, for more than three years. OIRA is supposed to take a maximum of 90 days to review agency rules.

A second rule that EPA withdrew would have forced companies to disclose to the public the chemicals used in products and the health and safety studies the companies have conducted on those chemicals -- much of which companies have been allowed to protect as "confidential business information." That rule had been at OMB since 2011.

Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, noted that the EPA had withdrawn the two rules in a blog post on Friday afternoon. In an email statement to The Huffington Post, an EPA spokesman said that the rules were being withdrawn because "they are no longer necessary." The agency pointed to separate work it has since undertaken to evaluate chemical safety, and to other efforts it has made to increase transparency about chemicals. The agency noted a concern that limiting the amount of information that companies can protect as confidential business information "may result in fewer submissions of these important studies."

Denison noted that, given how long these rules have been waiting at OMB, their fate seemed inevitable. OIRA had the two rules for 1,213 and 619 days, respectively. "The reason OIRA has sat on these rules has never been made public," said Denison. "They have a 90-day deadline and they regularly flout it … OIRA's not playing by the rules."

Progressives and even a former Obama administration EPA official have previously complained that OIRA is stopping up the rulemaking process.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to OIRA as the Office of Regulatory Affairs. It is in fact the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

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