Platinum Industry Tries a DQA Complaint the Bush Administration Wouldn't Even Accept

by Matt Shudtz

On Monday, the International Platinum Group Metals Association submitted a Data Quality Act complaint (pdf) to EPA regarding a draft toxicological review of halogenated platinum salts and platinum compounds. This one ought to go straight to the agency’s recycling bin.

IPA, as the trade group calls itself, is complaining that the draft document, released by EPA’s IRIS office in 2009 for peer review and public comment, does not meet the standards of objectivity and utility required under the DQA and its implementing guidelines. In IPA’s view,

EPA’s exclusive reliance on [a] single and inappropriate study, as well as the proposed [reference concentration] derived based on that study, constitutes erroneous information, the dissemination of which -- even in “external review draft” form -- contravenes the [DQA].

I won’t go into the scientific debate here because it’s irrelevant to how EPA should handle the DQA complaint. 

Under both OMB’s government-wide and EPA’s agency-specific (pdf) guidelines for handling DQA complaints, the trade association’s complaint is “frivolous” and the agency is well within its rights to decline to review it. The guidelines state that EPA need not review DQA complaints “for which a response would be duplicative.” Since the document that IPA is complaining about is a draft put out by the agency for public review and comment, responding through the DQA process would certainly be duplicative of the upcoming response from IRIS program staff. IRISTrack, the public list of the IRIS program’s schedule for completing ongoing work, shows that agency staff are addressing reviewers’ comments on the platinum salts document right now and will have a final version out by the end of September. 

IPA’s complaint fails to explain how a response through the DQA process would not be duplicative of the IRIS office’s efforts. In fact, the trade organization seems to ignore that provision of the DQA guidelines altogether. The complaint states:

…to the extent to which this [complaint] raises issues similar to those that the IPA has sought to bring to EPA’s attention through comments [on the draft document], this circumstance does not alter EPA’s responsibility to provide a substantive response to the Request, which proceeds on different statutory and regulatory grounds.

IPA is simply wrong on that point, as explained above. Responding to IPA’s complaint in this case would be an unnecessary waste of agency resources not even the Bush Administration would countenance.

DQA complaints are a standard tactic that industry uses to slow the regulatory process, which makes this complaint all the more noteworthy. This time, the trade association is in effect prodding EPA to hurry along the final assessment. IPA suggests that the draft toxicological review and reference concentration, by virtue of remaining unchanged and widely circulated, become increasingly influential “every day, week, month, or year that [they are] available and circulating.” While IPA does not go as far as to explicitly ask EPA to publish a final IRIS profile, which could pave the way for new regulation under a number of different statutes, the trade group must recognize that filing this complaint creates an added incentive for IRIS program staff to finish their review of the draft. With agency resources at a premium, EPA has a simple way to avoid expending any time or effort on the DQA complaint: just finish the IRIS document, thereby rendering a DQA response duplicative and unnecessary. Perhaps this lays bare the industry’s assumption that protector agencies are unlikely to draft new regulations in the face of staunch opposition, but I digress.



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