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LA case can help rebalance EPA biases

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency charts a course away from its unbalanced, biased tack of the previous eight years, a Louisiana controversy has emerged as one of the avenues by which correction may occur.

Denka Performer Elastomer LLC, with a plant in St. John the Baptist Parish, has petitioned the EPA for relief from an unnecessarily-high standard imposed upon the emission of chloroprene. In 2010, through its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) that collates known scientific studies, the EPA declared a limit of 0.2 micrograms of it per cubic meter of air for the chemical. The plant on occasion has emitted 12 to 58 times that amount.

But in a letter to the EPA earlier this year and through Congressional testimony last month, experts from a firm with extensive IRIS experience hired by Denka questioned the calculation of that amount. They pointed out, in the case of chloroprene studies, a number of shortcomings to the IRIS procedure, many having come to light previously in reports by expert panels of the National Academy of Sciences. In all, using published data and recognized methods, the experts discovered the EPA level overestimated the dangerous amount of chloroprene by 156 times.

This has ramifications for a suit plaintiffs from the area have brought against Denka, based upon the allegedly excessive amounts of chloroprene sometimes released, as a revised standard would show no harmful presence. In response, they found others trying to detract from the defendant’s data that went into the letter Denka sent to the EPA, as they continue to want courts to shut down or restrict Denka’s plant.

Former EPA official Karl Brooks, now ensconced in academia, argued that the EPA should ignore the defendant’s research, because it provided “no new peer-reviewed scientific information” not already considered by it. He claimed the move as political, playing towards attitudes of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt he viewed as focused on profits, not safety.

Give Brooks credit in those remarks for throwing up a straw man argument and displaying plenty of chutzpah. A political appointee under former Pres. Barack Obama, Brooks came from the anti-free enterprise Idaho Conservation League, the state arm of the leftist League of Conservation Voters that consistently supports draconian environmental regulatory measures, heavy restrictions on private property use, and adheres to the myth of “environmental racism.” He and dozens of others in the EPA under Obama had conflicts of interest favoring environmental interests.

Being such an apparatchik in this regime explains why people like Brooks would make such hysterical statements about Pruitt, especially since the EPA ahead recently announced it would end the abusive “sue-and-settle” strategy pursued by the agency under Obama, a goal long pursued by former Sen. David Vitter. It’s laughable that a politicized agent such as Brooks would accuse his opponents of putting politics ahead of sound public policy.

Such overwrought, baseless rhetoric also distracts from the merits of the experts’ argument; the NAS reports critical of IRIS faulted it for the cavalier, if not idiosyncratic, way in which it vetted and weighed the studies, a point Brooks failed to address in his attempted rebuttal. Nor did he review the available public data and methods the experts used.

Another plaintiff-paid expert, Marco Kaltofen, defended the EPA’s extrapolation of animal testing to simulate human reaction – even though the Denka experts demonstrated how, in the case of chloroprene testing, the EPA departed from generally-accepted evaluative procedures. A third questioned the use of tumor data to show no ill effects around the plant.

After the NAS reports, the EPA started a process to reform its IRIS decision-making procedures, but many substances on the list like chloroprene have received no review to correct any errors. The experts backing Denka wisely call for such as vetting to revise the standard if necessary, which obviously would affect the court case.

With the EPA now giving every indication it will root politics out of science in policy-making, it should launch a review of chloroprene standards. Convincing data exist of the current standard’s mistaken nature, so courts would do best to defer on this case and on any others where such evidence exists until the EPA can come up with a more reliable determination. Should it follow this course, Louisiana will have assisted in the long-needed recalibration of the EPA to better serve the public rather than benefitting special interests.

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