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The Week Ahead

EPA Arsenic Workshop Marks New Approach For IRIS Assessments; 'Mega' Suit Update Due

Posted: January 7, 2013

EPA is slated to hit the reset button on its effort to craft a controversial assessment on the risks posed by arsenic, hosting a workshop on the issue that marks a first-time effort to gather public input prior to crafting such assessments.

And a federal court is slated to receive an update from litigants in the landmark “mega” suit, which is likely to test whether environmentalists can challenge EPA pesticide registrations under the Endangered Species Act.


EPA is holding a workshop to gather public input prior to relaunching its controversial assessment of the risks posed by arsenic, which marks the first time that the agency has sought such input before conducting an Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) toxicological assessment.

The Jan. 8 -- 9 workshop, slated to be held in Research Triangle Park, NC, is intended to inform EPA's IRIS review of inorganic arsenic, which many groups are closely watching due to its significant regulatory impacts.

Top EPA officials announced last fall that they would begin to gather public input prior to launching new IRIS assessments. Industry officials have urged the agency to take such a step in part to avoid launching assessments, as is the case with trimethylbenzenes, where the initial scope did not consider enough chemicals in the class.

The revised assessment that EPA is beginning to craft is also the first to be subject to a new review process by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), thanks to a congressional mandate for EPA to seek such reviews.

EPA is restarting its IRIS assessment of arsenic after Congress ordered the agency to seek NAS review of a previous draft that would increase by more than 20-fold the agency's estimate of the cancer risks posed by arsenic, which industry groups worried would drive cost-prohibitive and unattainable regulatory standards.

EPA is slated to receive comments on its proposed reinterpretation of its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) rules governing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to provide assurances to the scrap industry that shredded plastics from automobiles and appliances qualify for regulatory exclusions exempting material containing low levels of PCBs from TSCA requirements -- if the material is handled in accordance with a voluntary industry materials management protocol.

EPA and industry supporters of the new approach say it will allow for widespread recycling of plastics, which the automotive sector is increasingly seeking as it redesigns its production process to facilitate increased use of recycled material and to limit waste.

In Court

The federal district court in California that is overseeing landmark litigation over whether environmentalists can challenge pesticide registrations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is slated to hold a case management conference with the litigants Jan. 11.

The so-called “mega” suit, also known as Center for Biological Diversity, et. al., v. EPA, alleges that EPA failed to consult with wildlife agencies to consider the impacts on more than 200 endangered species when it registered 382 pesticides. But the plaintiffs must first overcome a procedural challenge from EPA, backed by industry groups, whose lawyers allege that such challenges are really “collateral attacks” to the registration, which should be brought under pesticide law, not the ESA.

EPA Nominees

As President Obama announces new officials to serve in his second term, speculation is growing over who will replace outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Outgoing Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) is said to be under consideration and California Air Resources Board chief Mary Nichols may also be in the running.

Other Events

In the wake of Republican election losses in 2012, key GOP former environment officials are launching a new leadership group to put forward ideas for how “conservatives are rebuilding leadership on conservation and the environment.” The new Conservation Leadership Council is hosting a Jan. 5 meeting to “showcase a new national dialogue among conservative leaders about innovative solutions to America’s environmental and conservation challenges,” says the group, which works to promote policies rooted in “fiscal responsibility, limited government, market entrepreneurship, community leadership, and public-private partnerships.”

Leaders of the group include former White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair James Connaughton, former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and former EPA Region V Administrator Mary Gade.

The Environmental Law Institute, together with the American Law Institute-Continuing Legal Education, is hosting a Jan. 10 panel discussion on “The Role of Localities and the Public in Shaping Drilling's Future,” which is intended to examine whether federal best practices and regulatory approaches adequately address the impacts of drilling on local communities, given that such impacts may not be easily amenable to such regulation. Instead, an announcement says, “these impacts by be best addressed by localities, which have traditionally had primacy in the land use arena. In some states, local governments have significant say over whether and how shale drilling takes place; in others, localities have little to none.”