OpinionTrending Commentary

Time to Hold the EPA to Account for Meddling in Markets

More and more, government regulations are encroaching on free markets. Generally, such actions are taken in the name of preserving the economy or for consumer benefit, but too often they have the opposite effect. It is now time for leaders in Washington to take a step back and examine the consequences of this overregulation.

Domestic energy companies have been struggling under overly restrictive regulations for years. Environmental impact studies that stretch on indefinitely, drilling bans on federal lands, and overly restrictive rules surrounding greenhouse gas emissions threaten to reversed years of gains that for the first time in 62 years had made America energy independent. Now, regulators have set their sights on chemical companies and the effects could be equally damaging.

Reports indicate that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of finalizing a rule that would label a certain class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund. The proposed EPA designation is in effect a reaction to recent research that has alleged exposure to certain forms of PFAS compounds can cause specific health issues despite the fact that the science on this issue is uncertain.

Many of the chemicals in question in these studies – including PFOA and PFOS – were already voluntarily phased out by industry more than 20-years ago and their levels have been dropping in the environment since then. But the alarmism, misinformation, and regulatory uncertainty the EPA has generated around the modern PFAS chemicals that are safely made and used today have made their continued use untenable. As one major PFAS producer put it, “customers are taking note of PFAS regulations. They’re looking for alternatives.”

In response to this proposed designation and “accelerating regulatory trends” around PFAS that are changing the business case for continuing to produce these chemicals, 3M, a major manufacturer of PFAS chemicals, announced its intent to phase out production of PFAS chemicals by 2025. While Wall Street analysts approve of the move, calling it “a step in the right direction” such government regulations leave businesses with few other options.

Despite industry’s best efforts to avoid such outcomes, these regulations will likely have negative implications for millions of American consumers. PFAS chemicals are contained in products that millions of Americans use every day. The semiconductors in our smartphones, nonstick cookware in our kitchens, and many personal care products in our bathrooms – including shampoo, makeup and even dental floss – all contain PFAS chemicals.

Demand will not cease overnight for PFAS chemicals if the EPA moves forward with this designation. Americans may also be faced with increased costs until new compounds can be created and brought to market, and supply chains are retooled to incorporate smaller providers of PFAS chemicals that will fill the gap in the interim.

Even when industry comes up with scalable and adequate replacements for PFAS, Americans will still suffer the consequences of these overreaching PFAS regulations in other ways. Many of the environmental guidelines set by this proposed Superfund designation are well outside international norms.

Given the fact that PFAS is in so many consumer goods we use today, almost all residential waste could be deemed hazardous. For example, according to the National Waste & Recycling Association increased costs with PFAS management could total as much as $6.27 billion for municipal landfills. The drinking water quality guidelines that the EPA has proposed meanwhile, would make the United States an international outlier as they are in some cases 25,000 times more stringent than existing World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Ultimately it would be taxpayers and utility ratepayers that will be saddled with these billions in unnecessary cleanup and remediation costs.

As major chemical companies choose to phase out PFAS chemicals as opposed to work within the framework the EPA has proposed, it is clear that these regulations are too onerous and the proposed Superfund designation is too heavy-handed. Time and time again the EPA has been criticized for taking this exact action and altering the regular course of business. It is time to push back, reclaim free markets, and hold the EPA accountable for providing reasonable regulations.

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Michael Busler

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.

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