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In Case of First Impression, Court Rules EPA Wrongly Dismissed Citizen Group’s TSCA Section 21 Petition

On December 21, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had wrongly dismissed a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 21 petition submitted by Food & Water Watch, Inc. and other citizens seeking the regulation of fluoridation of drinking water supplies under TSCA Section 6(a) on grounds that the ingestion of fluoride poses an unreasonable risk to humans.  Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. EPA, Case No. 17-cy-02162-EMC (N.D. Cal.) (Food & Water Watch).  In 2017, EPA denied the Section 21 petition on the grounds that it failed to address conditions of use other than the fluoridation of drinking water.  82 Fed. Reg. 11878 (Feb. 27, 2017). 

In a fairly scathing rebuke of EPA’s legal positions, the court denied EPA’s motion to dismiss the petitioner’s judicial challenge of EPA’s administrative denial of the Section 21 petition and, in so doing, essentially rejected EPA’s interpretation that a citizen petition must evaluate all conditions of use of a chemical substance in a TSCA Section 6(b) risk evaluation.  While we are hesitant to note that “we told you so” in our March 7, 2017, blog item, the analysis noted there was spot on.

At issue in Food & Water Watch is EPA’s legal position that TSCA Section 6 requires that EPA consider all conditions of use in proceedings under that provision.  The court rejected this view noting that the “argument has no basis in the statutory text,” and there “is no good reason to believe that the term’s [conditions of use] appearance … [in Section 21] … obligates all citizen petitioners to address all conditions of use.”  The court also noted that EPA’s interpretation creates “a disparity between citizen petitions and manufacturer requests” for a Section 6(b) risk evaluation.  Under the rules, a manufacturer’s request may be limited only to those particular conditions of use of interest to the manufacturer, citing 40 C.F.R. Section 702.37(b)(4).  The court also noted EPA’s change of view on this issue between the proposed and final risk evaluation rule.  EPA initially proposed that risk evaluations must consider all conditions of use, but concluded in the final rule that EPA may focus its review on fewer than all conditions of use.

The court’s analysis is clear and well written, and goes into some detail on EPA’s legal reasoning and the problems it identified with it.

Commentary

This ruling raises interesting issues when viewed in the broader context of pending judicial challenges to EPA’s TSCA framework rules.  In those challenges, citizen advocates challenge EPA’s view, as articulated in the final framework rules, that the Agency retains discretion to assess those conditions of use it believes are most relevant for a particular chemical evaluation.  In other words, they challenge EPA’s view that fewer than all conditions of use must be considered in a risk evaluation, the very position the court in Food & Water Watch rejected for purposes of Section 21 petitions challenging EPA’s interpretation of a citizen’s legal burden under TSCA Section 6(a).  Given that the judicial challenge to the risk evaluation final rule is being heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, this district court decision is particularly relevant.

©2019 Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

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About this Author

Lynn Bergeson, Campbell PC, Toxic Substances Control Act Attorney, federal insecticide lawyer, industrial biotechnology legal counsel, Food Drug Administration law
Managing Partner

Owner of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®), Lynn L. Bergeson has earned an international reputation for her deep and expansive understanding of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), European Union Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), and especially how these regulatory programs pertain to nanotechnology, industrial biotechnology, synthetic biology, and other emerging transformative technologies. Her knowledge of and involvement in the policy...

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Charles M. Auer, Senior Regulatory and Policy Advisor, Toxic Substances Control Act, chemicals
Senior Regulatory and Policy Advisor

For more than three decades, Charles M. Auer, Senior Regulatory and Policy Advisor with Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®), has provided sagacious, informed, and deeply insightful guidance on legal, policy, and scientific matters related to the regulation of chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and related domestic and international chemical control laws.  Mr. Auer’s experience includes over 32 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most recently as the Director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), responsible for implementation of TSCA. He offers clients a truly exceptional level of policy and technical expertise in domestic and international chemical regulation, including chemical testing, assessment, and management of new and existing chemicals under TSCA; strategies for compliance with major U.S. trading partners and under multilateral environmental agreements such as the Stockholm Convention; approaches such as green chemistry, pollution prevention, Safer Choice, and other safer substitutes to meet corporate product stewardship goals; and commercialization of products from emerging chemical technologies, including nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and intergeneric microorganisms.

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Margaret Graham, Environmental Science and Policy Paralegal, Bergeson Campbell Law firm
Paralegal

Margaret R. Graham (Maggie), a paralegal with Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®), holds a Masters degree in Environmental Science and Policy, and has over a decade of paralegal experience, including eight years focused in federal regulatory law.  Her understanding of environmental policy and the administrative and legislative process involved in regulatory compliance makes her an invaluable resource to B&C staff and clients, who rely on her research, project management, and writing and editing skills to complete efficiently briefs, pleadings, and other documents.

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