Conservationists are cautiously optimistic about two decisions by the Obama administration that decline to follow Bush-era actions undermining environmental protections. One decision concerns pesticide spraying around waterways and the other concerns a carcinogenic dry cleaning chemical.
Rebuffing a request by the Department of Agriculture, the Justice Department today announced that it will not seek rehearing of a ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that invalidated a Bush EPA rule exempting pesticide spraying around waterways from the Clean Water Act regulations.
In January, the court reversed a Bush EPA decision that the spraying of pesticides into the nation's waters should no longer be regulated by the Clean Water Act. The Court held that pesticide residuals and biological pesticides are pollutants under federal law and so must be regulated under the Clean Water Act in order to minimize impacts to human health and the environment.
On the issue of pollution from the dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene, commonly called PCE or perc, the EPA on Friday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to allow it to reconsider the Bush administration's legal and policy positions.
The case brought by the Sierra Club was scheduled to be heard by the appellate court on May 14. But rather than defend the Bush-era perc regulation, the EPA says it wants to go back and re-evaluate the rule.
"This is great news. The previous administration's approach was wrongheaded and illegal," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew, who is representing the Sierra Club in the case. "We hope the new administration moves to get this toxic chemical out of the air we breathe and eliminate the cancer risk it creates for millions of Americans."
Because dry cleaners that use perchloroethylene are located throughout neighborhoods in most U.S. cities and towns, millions of Americans are exposed to their toxic emissions. Dry cleaners may operate in the same buildings as apartments, schools, and daycare centers.
People are exposed to PCE when they breathe in the emissions from dry cleaning machines and when they breathe in emissions released over time from the clothes that are cleaned at dry cleaners.
The EPA has acknowledged that the health risks from PCE dry cleaners are extremely high, and has classified PCE as a probable cancer-causing chemical that has been linked to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage.
Yet, the Bush-era EPA adopted a rule that will allow dry cleaners to continue using PCE, even though some cleaners already have switched to safer, cleaner, viable technologies.
In California, more than 125 cleaners use professional wet cleaning and 10 cleaners use carbon dioxide. More than 27,000 dry cleaners across the country still use old machines that clean clothes with perchloroethylene.