Perchlorate’s Slow Boil

February 2, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it would begin the process for setting limits on perchlorate in drinking water. The neurotoxin, largely discharged by Pentagon contractors who make rocket fuel, is especially dangerous to pre-borns and newborns. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who had pushed for the rule, called the EPA announcement “wonderful news.”

Here’s more good news. The announcement suggests that last month’s regulatory initiative by the Obama administration, billed as a way to help small business, wasn’t a smokescreen to curry favor with big business by slowing action on major rules where the science evidence overwhelmingly favors stricter standards. The Bush administration”s EPA had delayed action on the perchlorate rule for most of the last decade in response to defense department contractor lobbying.

The bad news is that the EPA announced it would take up to two years to reconsider the latest science before publishing a proposed new standard, and then give stakeholders another 18 months to respond before publishing rule. As Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, pointed out on the Center for Progressive Reform blog:

Rather than simply declaring its intentions and laying out such a long timeline, EPA should have issued a proposed rule and then gone forward with on the rulemaking process on the record, with a public docket, and the Pentagon’s complaints opened to scrutiny. This process ought to have moved out from behind closed doors months ago, but now it appears we’ll have no actual results until after the end of the President’s first term.

Perhaps there was politics in the announcement after all.

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