Richard E. Engler, Ph.D., Quoted By Inside EPA Regarding EPA’s Increased Backlog of Chemical Applications
On January 29, 2019, Inside EPA quoted Richard E. Engler, Ph.D., Director of Chemistry, Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®), in the article “EPA Faces New Backlog Of Chemical Applications After Shutdown Ends.”
A draft framework the agency crafted in 2017 to speed PMN reviews drew widespread criticisms from environmentalists and others, forcing Wheeler to pledge late last year that the agency would reconsider the most recent draft review plan.
But the shutdown will bring a new backlog of PMNs now that the agency has reopened. “They had the backlog before, they were working through it, now they’ve got more [PMNs], who knows how many,” Richard Engler, director of chemistry for the law firm Bergeson & Campbell, tells Inside EPA.
In addition, Engler adds that EPA already had additional buildup in cases from a rush of applications before October, when the agency’s higher fees for PMN applications took effect. “So the backlog is worse, submitters are more frantic. If you count the holidays, it’s been six to eight weeks in which no progress has been made on some of these.”
Engler, with Bergeson and Campbell, also notes that the agency has been set back in its efforts to assess risks of existing chemicals under TSCA section 6.
The revised statute includes a number of major first deadlines at the three-year mark from the statute’s enactment, in 2019. Many of these revolve around the existing chemicals — those that were on the market when the original TSCA took effect in 1976, and were largely grandfathered from it. Perhaps most crucial is the December deadline to complete the first 10 assessments of existing chemicals.
The agency is “further in the hole on their [TSCA] section 6 deadlines. They’re going to have serious problems squeezing in” everything they need to accomplish before the new TSCA’s statutory deadlines,” he says.
Engler, a former OPPT chemist, says the shutdown is going to be especially “tough” on the Risk Assessment Division within OPPT, which supports both the new chemicals program and its program on existing chemicals, which also faces numerous pending TSCA deadlines.
But Engler says that “the real challenge is going to be management, [at] the political level, [the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention] immediate office.”
Engler says that the arrival of Alexandra Dunn, the recently confirmed assistant administrator of the toxics office, will help take pressure off the three deputies who have been leading the office without a Senate-confirmed chief in the Trump administration. “Now she’s there to be a decision maker” and to take up the responsibilities that had been left to the trio of deputies that have filled the role since the Obama EPA left office. Engler suggests this will allow the deputies “more time to spend on the details, providing support to Alexandra Dunn. That’ll help some.”
Still, Engler says, OPPT’s Director “Jeff Morris is going to be in a tough spot. . . . there’s just a limit to what he can delegate. . . . There’s only one office director.”
Morris’ role as head of OPPT has become crucial to the PMN process, where for some time he has been reviewing many PMN application decisions before they are finalized. The unusual high level of review since the new statute took effect has led to slowing in the system. “My understanding is he’s still making decisions under section 5. Individual program managers are providing briefing materials for his signature,” Engler says of the situation shortly before the shutdown began.
“That was the choke point before, that’s going to be a worse choke point now. It’s a challenging workload.”
See – https://insideepa.com/daily-news/epa-faces-new-backlog-chemical-applications-after-shutdown-ends (subscription required)