What an Uncertain Future for the EPA Means for Chemical Safety

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Questions are swirling around whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency is in danger. Will the EPA change drastically over the course of the next few years, or could the agency even cease to exist?

While no one can predict exactly where the EPA will be in 2018, 2020, or beyond, here’s how experts think its uncertain future could impact chemical safety.

The EPA’s Existing Strategic Plan
For now, the EPA has outlined a series of directives on how to best protect the environment from chemicals. Through constant communication with other Federal agencies the EPA is working to streamline industrial and commercial chemical safety procedures, promote pollution prevention, and more widely disseminate chemical safety information to policy-makers and individuals. All of these efforts, of course, take considerable funds to accomplish. As it stands, the current strategic plan runs through 2018; could budget cuts hit before the outlined objectives are met? It’s possible, but unlikely.

New Risk-Management Regulation Could be Repealed
In 2013, an executive order was signed that expanded the EPA’s risk management procedures. The goal was to tighten accident prevention and better coordinate between chemical facilities and local officials. The rule wasn’t finalized by the agency until January 2017, and is thus now vulnerable for a veto by Congress under a new administration. If repealed, the regulations could loosen facility regulations regarding hazardous chemical storage and reporting and potentially exposes private citizens to vulnerability from accidents.

Cuts in Store for the ORD
Among the EPA’s various branches, the Office of Research and Development (ORD) is primarily responsible for directives on chemical safety. Now targeted for an over 40% budget cut, the ORD is poised to lose valuable resources for chemicals research, regulation, and safety-management. Environmental scientists warn that such drastic budget cuts – designed to reduce the burdens of regulation on state and local governments – could devastate the agency’s valuable work in sensitive areas such as pesticides, explosive chemicals, and sustainability. If passed, the new budget would reduce the EPA’s chemical safety budget from $89.2 million to $61.8 million per year.

How will the EPA respond to these new challenges? It’s yet to be seen how drastically the agency’s work and research will be affected in coming years, but many within the department say they’re simply hoping for continued existence of the agency itself.

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