Energy Department Blasts EPA's Proposed Chemical Ban, Alleging It Would Hurt US Ability To Detect WMDs

EPA proposal would jeopardize 'complex' national defense research, Energy Department argues

L: EPA administrator Michael Regan (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) R: Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
September 11, 2023

The Department of Energy is blasting a proposal from President Joe Biden's Environmental Protection Agency to ban a popular chemical, arguing a ban on methylene chloride would hinder the Energy Department's ability to detect weapons of mass destruction and conduct "complex" national defense research.

The EPA in April proposed a rule to ban the commercial use and production of methylene chloride, which is used in commercial-grade cleaning products—but also in the manufacturing of military equipment and pharmaceuticals. While the proposal offers national security-related exemptions for the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy gets no such exemption.

Now, the Savannah River National Laboratory, which conducts "complex" national defense research "related to the detection of weapons of mass destruction," is sounding the alarm. In a letter to the EPA, the lab's principal industrial hygienist argued that America's ability to detect weapons of mass destruction would suffer if the lab can no longer use methylene chloride.

"Like DOD and NASA, these DOE missions support national security interests as well as critical infrastructure," the lab wrote in its June 28 letter. "[The laboratory] is concerned that the availability of methylene chloride from vendors and distributors for these important DOE mission research purposes will be limited or non-existent."

The letter marks a rare occurrence in which two Biden administration departments are publicly sparring. It also pits Biden's Energy Department against the same climate groups that usually rally behind the administration's environmental proposals. Environmental law firm Earthjustice in April called the proposed chemical ban a "win for public health" but argued that the final rule should come with fewer exemptions, not more.

"Exemptions in the rule would allow certain uses of methylene chloride to continue for a decade or more, leaving workers, service members, and communities at risk," the firm's senior attorney, Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, said in a statement.

Savannah River National Laboratory spokesman Scott Shaw told the Washington Free Beacon the lab "appreciates the opportunity to provide comment during the EPA rule making" and "look[s] forward to the outcome." An EPA spokesman told the Free Beacon the agency will consider the Energy Department's response and "looks forward to continued collaboration with our federal partners during development of the final rule."

This is not the first time Biden's EPA and other regulatory agencies have floated bans on materials that are considered essential. The EPA in June proposed a ban on a chemical used in many dry cleaning businesses, even as it admitted it was unable to determine "the number of dry cleaning facility closures that may be associated" with the ban. The administration has also advanced regulations that would effectively ban large segments of the gas stove and portable gas generator markets.

While the administration has maintained a unified front in support of those measures, the EPA's proposed methylene chloride ban is sparking concerns from within the administration that Biden's regulatory agenda has gone too far.

"If research and development uses are not specifically addressed in the proposed regulatory language as an allowable use, the current wording could allow interpretation that [research and development] uses are prohibited," the Energy Department laboratory wrote in its letter.

In addition to the Department of Energy, a bipartisan group of senators are urging Biden's EPA to reconsider its methylene chloride proposal. Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), and J.D. Vance (R., Ohio) argued in a September letter that the ban would hurt America's military.

"Methylene chloride is a critical compound either used in or used to manufacture products that we rely on every day, including military equipment," the senators wrote. "While we wholeheartedly endorse commonsense regulation ... we are apprehensive with EPA’s seemingly arbitrary evaluation that deems no level of risk acceptable for manufacturers."