October 13, 2019

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EPA Sued to Issue Pending Methylene Chloride Prohibition Rule in Final

On January 14, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, the Vermont Public Interest Group; Safer Chemicals, Health Families; and two individuals (plaintiffs) followed up on their earlier notice of intent to sue and filed a complaint against Andrew Wheeler and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to compel EPA to perform its “mandatory duty” to “address the serious and imminent threat to human health presented by paint removal products containing methylene chloride.”  Plaintiffs bring the action under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Section 20(a) which states that “any person may commence a civil action … against the Administrator to compel the Administrator to perform any act or duty under this Act which is not discretionary.”  Plaintiffs allege that EPA has not performed its mandatory duty under TSCA Sections 6(a) and 7.  TSCA Section 6(a) gives EPA the authority to regulate substances that present “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment” and TSCA Section 7 gives EPA the authority to commence civil actions for seizure and/or relief of “imminent hazards.”  Plaintiffs’ argument to direct EPA to ban methylene chloride is centered on the issue of risk to human health only, however, stating that it presents “an unreasonable risk to human health” as confirmed by EPA.  Under TSCA Section 20(b)(2), plaintiffs are required to submit a notice of intent to sue 60 days prior to filing a complaint which they did on October 31, 2018.

Background

On January 19, 2017, EPA issued a proposed rule under TSCA Section 6 to prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution in commerce of methylene chloride for consumer and most types of commercial paint and coating removal (82 Fed. Reg. 7464).  EPA also proposed to prohibit the use of methylene chloride in these commercial uses; to require manufacturers (including importers), processors, and distributors, except for retailers, of methylene chloride for any use to provide downstream notification of these prohibitions throughout the supply chain; and to require recordkeeping.  EPA relied on a risk assessment of methylene chloride published in 2014, the scope of which EPA stated included “consumer and commercial paint and coating removal.”  The proposed rule stated that in the risk assessment, EPA identified risks from inhalation exposure including “neurological effects such as cognitive impairment, sensory impairment, dizziness, incapacitation, and loss of consciousness (leading to risks of falls, concussion, and other injuries)” and, based on EPA’s analysis of worker and consumer populations' exposures to methylene chloride in paint and coating removal, EPA proposed “a determination that methylene chloride and NMP in paint and coating removal present an unreasonable risk to human health.”  The comment period on the proposed rule was extended several times, ending in May 2017, and in September 2017 EPA held a workshop to help inform EPA’s understanding of methylene chloride use in furniture refinishing. 

No further action was taken to issue the rule in final, however, until December 21, 2018, when EPA sent the final rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review.  On the same day, EPA also sent another rule to OMB for review titled “Methylene Chloride; Commercial Paint and Coating Removal Training, Certification and Limited Access Program,” which has not previously been included in EPA’s Regulatory Agenda; very little is known about this rule.  Plaintiffs do not refer to it in the complaint but there is speculation, based on its title, that this second rule may allow for some commercial uses of methylene chloride.

Commentary

We recall the lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) in 2018 challenging EPA’s draft New Chemicals Decision-Making Framework document as a final rule.  The current action further reflects the commitment of detractors of EPA to use the courts and every other means available to oppose the Administration’s TSCA implementation efforts.  Whether and when this court will respond is unclear.  What is clear is that the case will be closely watched, as the outcome will be an important signal to the TSCA stakeholder community regarding the utility of TSCA Section 20(a)(2) to force non-discretionary EPA actions that the Administration may be disinclined to take. 

©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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