The Environmental Protection Agency can be an inconvenient regulator no matter who’s in the Oval Office. If a president’s priority is to quickly create jobs and grow the economy, environmental regulations can be burdensome and costly. If his focus is to fight health and ecological threats, business considerations have to wait.
But since its inception in 1970 under President Nixon, EPA has managed to get the balance right more often than not. Both industry and EPA’s critics agree that our air is cleaner and our water is safer even as business has managed to thrive. What’s needed now is finding enough resources and will to maintain the many respected programs that lawmakers and presidents from both political parties have worked so hard to devise—especially when it comes to chemicals.
For 40 years, the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA was ineffective in regulating chemicals used in the U.S. Then last year, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a bi-partisan measure that overhauled the way chemicals can be brought to the marketplace.
EPA, the business community and environmental groups worked collectively for nearly a decade to update TSCA with this act and all agree that it will reassure consumers that scientists have evaluated the risks from chemicals in an unbiased and timely way.
EPA must now meet specific deadlines to implement the law, but it will need the financial resources to do so. Without adequate funding and staff, the agency will be forced to delay decisions that industry needs for the introduction of innovative new products, hurting consumers and manufacturers alike.
Congress also needs to act by the end of September to reauthorize the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), the law that governs the EPA approval process for pesticides used in the U.S. It is backed by both business and consumer groups largely because it includes predictable timelines for approval of products that protect Americans from insect-borne diseases like the Zika and West Nile viruses. It also pays for pesticide safety education for farm workers.
PRIA assures consumers that the pesticides they use are effective. Supporters of extending the law include trade groups, environmentalists and state agricultural regulators. Congress needs to act soon.
The Safer Choice Program (previously known as Design for Environment) challenges companies to voluntarily create sustainable products using ingredients on a government-prescribed list. If a product meets the program’s criteria, a company can affix the much-admired Safer Choice logo on its packaging and advertising.
The logo now adorns more than 2,000 products and the program has over 500 industry partners. Companies have invested heavily to reformulate their offerings and consumers, including hospitals, schools and families, have grown accustomed to looking for Safer Choice labeled products.
Safer Choice has provided tangible, bottom-line results for consumers, businesses and environmental advocates. And almost everyone agrees that it should be continued. It is clearly far preferable to having dozens of separate labeling programs managed by groups as dissimilar as retailers, private certification companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local governments. The next EPA administrator needs to lend his support to Safer Choice.
Business leaders have been agitating for years for a new administrator to conduct a thorough regulatory review of EPA. No one doubts that Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s choice for the job, will do so with vigor. What most people don’t realize is that a lot of what Mr. Pruitt will find isn’t controversial at all. He can – and should – take a hard look at what needs to be eliminated or scaled back, but he can also affirm what’s actually working.
Embracing the successes at EPA – as well as rooting out its excesses – will bring certainty and predictability to industry, making it easier to create jobs while also bringing new, innovative, cleaner and healthier products to the marketplace. Mr. Pruitt will soon find that EPA actually gets it right sometimes.
Steve Caldeira is President and CEO of the Consumer Specialty Products Association based in Washington, D.C.