Wednesday, November 30, 2005

OSHA's Belated Hex Chrome Standard: "Sorry I'm Late Dude, But There Was This Humongous Hurricane, and uh...."

Every disaster has a silver lining. OSHA has even found a silver lining in Katrina: a convenient excuse for being a bit tardy in handing in its final hexavalent chromium standard to the Office of Management and Budget so that it can be reviewed and finalized before the court-ordered deadline -- January 18, 2006 -- about a month and a half from now. OSHA was supposed to submit the standard to OMB by September 15 in order to allow 90 days for review.

OSHA is blaming its tardiness on Hurricane Katrina. According to Inside OSHA, OSHA told OMB that its "progress on the rule was impacted by the activation of the Federal Government's National Response Plan after Hurricane Katrina."

Maybe. But it seems rather curious considering it's mainly inspectors down on the Gulf Coast, not the toxicologists and regulatory experts working on the standard.

OSHA had orgininally promised to issue a rule in 1997 after a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen. At that time, OSHA told the court it expected to produce a proposed rule by 1999, but by 2003 no progress had been made because OSHA said it had "other rulemaking priorities."

Considering that the agency's rulemaking has basically ground to a halt with the exception of this court-ordered standard, clearly the agency can't blame "other rulemaking priorities." I guess Katrina was the best thing they had at hand.

Of course, the court may not be convinced. Someone on OSHA's standards office wore a prison outfit to the agency's Halloween party -- perhaps as a reminder to Acting Assistant Secretary Snare that it's not nice to mess with federal court deadlines?