Cleaning Up the Bush EPA’s Dry Cleaning Rule

The Washington Post reported that EPA “is reconsidering whether to compel dry cleaners to phase out a cancer-causing chemical used in tens of thousands of operations nationwide.”  In 2006, the Bush Administration issued an air toxics rule for professional dry cleaners using perchloroethylene in which it tightened technology requirements, but refused to phase out use of the chemical.  This despite the fact that California regulators had already enacted phase outs, having found that replacement technologies were commercially available.  The Sierra Club challenged the rule and oral arguments before the D.C. Circuit were set for this month.  EPA recently asked the court for a voluntary remand to enable the Obama Administration a chance to review the rule. 

This all arose in the context of mandatory periodic reviews of technology-based standards under the Clean Air Act’s air toxics program.  EPA initially issued technology standards for dry cleaning in 1993, and was required to update the standards to take account of advances in technology, including the development of alternative processes.   The Bush EPA adopted a unique approach to the technology review process, essentially shifting the focus from the feasibility of the replacement technology to some form of risk-benefit analysis.  The Sierra Club’s lawsuit challenged this approach, and it will be interesting to see how a Cass Sunstein-led Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will deal with it.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Cleaning Up the Bush EPA’s Dry Cleaning Rule”

  1. Perc is a bad chemical and we no longer use it in our plant but like anything else it can be used responsibly. One of the pit falls to making dry cleaners change machines is the massive expense to purchase a new machine($60,000 – $80,000 easy). It may sound like a great idea to force dry cleaners to stop using perc but when your dry cleaning prices increase a few local stores close their doors and another few dozen people in your city don’t have a job it may not look like such a good idea then.

  2. Dear Shaun,

    I’m glad to hear your shop is no longer using perc. I agree with your concern about minimizing the economic impacts of a phase out, but the economics are not as you describe in this case. First, a phase out simply prohibits the sale of new perc machines–cleaners are allowed to use existing machines until the end of the unit’s economic life. Second, alternative technologies are commercially viable. Wet cleaning is less expensive, and petroleum is somewhat more, but not of the magnitude that shops are closing dowe. A phase out is already underway here in Southern California, and it is not causing the type of effects you understandably are concerned about. See the Pollution Prevention Center website for more information.

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Timothy Malloy teaches Environmental Aspects of Business Transactions, Regulatory Lawyering, Regulation of the Business Firm, Environmental Policy and Politics, and Contr…

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