Business executives often view federal regulators as bureaucrats or “red tape” that they need to work around. But many regulators are good for business — and for everyone else — and merit support.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is high on the list of helpful regulators, but it is struggling to do its job.
The EPA is the U.S.’s primary gatekeeper for commercial chemicals, disinfectants, and pest control products, categories that I represent at the Household & Commercial Products Association. If a company has an innovation that disinfects with less impact on the environment or is more sustainable, the EPA can open the way for its sale. But the industry’s new offerings cannot get to market without EPA review and approval.
The EPA is the seal of approval for a wide range of products that we depend on every day in homes and commercial establishments. But that kind of confidence is not automatic; it is earned. That is why EPA’s review process should be shored up.
The EPA administers the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA, which regulates the introduction of new chemicals and oversees existing chemicals, too. The agency’s work must be credible, predictable, and timely. Unfortunately, new chemicals and products are lined up to get EPA approval. There simply are too many demands for the agency to keep up, it is missing deadlines all the time.
That is exactly what should not be happening. EPA should have sufficient staff and resources to go through its regulatory and scientific processes within a predictable timeframe. Companies flourish on certainty and deserve to know what to expect and how long it will take to get their products to market. Instead, delays and backlogs continue to grow.
Industry has collaborated with environmentalists and NGOs to avoid this problem. Together, they helped enact the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act or PRIA, which created a more predictable process for evaluating pesticides. When the law went into effect in 2003, the EPA had nearly 1,000 employees in its Office of Pesticide Programs. Now, there are only 600 employees. It could take decades for this smaller complement of workers to catch up.
The EPA also manages labeling programs such as Safer Choice, which certify that the agency has approved major ingredients as the safest in their class. Here, too, underfunding and lack of staff have slowed the label process, depriving businesses and consumers of valuable information.
Industry understands that public confidence in the safety and effectiveness of cleaning and disinfecting products is important.
But that cannot happen without additional funding. Congress should pass President Biden’s proposal for $11.9 billion for the EPA in fiscal year 2023, an increase of about $2.6 billion from what it authorized last year. Even if the proposal is approved in full, though, the program responsible for reviewing and registering disinfectants and pest control products would not be adequately funded. The budget includes just $118 million, well short of the $144 million that is necessary to ensure thorough and timely reviews. The White House sought a similar increase for EPA in its proposed 2022 budget, but Congress authorized only about a fifth of that amount.
More must be done. Americans are waiting longer than they ought to for innovations in household and commercial chemicals. These are items used every day to protect homes and workplaces and have been vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EPA is responsible for regulating these products and it should get the resources it needs to do so.
Steve Caldeira is the president and CEO of the Household & Commercial Products Association.