IMPACT Interview: Fern Abrams, IPC


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I wanted to get the inside story on the meeting with EPA that occurred Tuesday afternoon and who better to talk with than IPC’s Fern Abrams. I was able to chat with her Wednesday morning.

Patty Goldman: Fern, as director of regulatory affairs for IPC, you are deeply involved with IMPACT, on the environmental end of things, especially. Tell me about yesterday.

Fern Abrams: We had a meeting with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and his Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, Byron Brown. I think I would speak accurately for everyone if I say it was an excellent meeting. I heard one of our attendees say that it was our best meeting of the day—but I’m biased.

Goldman: Well, the fact that you spoke with the top person there says a whole lot.

Abrams: In a career of almost 20 years working in environmental policy, this is the third EPA administrator I’ve had the privilege to meet, and I would say this was just a delightful meeting.

Goldman: Wonderful. What did he have to say?

Abrams: IPC’s president, John Mitchell, kicked off the meeting by telling the administrator about IPC, what we do, the members we represent, and also letting the administrator know that we had a proud history of working with the EPA. He talked a little bit about our involvement in the Design for the Environment program and mentioned that one of our staff, David Bergman, had been recognized by the EPA for his work in helping the industry transition out of ozone-depleting chemicals, but that was a long time ago, quite frankly. We are looking forward to working with this administration on cooperative environmental protection that is based on science and is cost-effective.

Goldman: Are there any hot buttons right now?

Abrams: We talked about three. The first is the recycling of byproducts and what I would say is the unfair treatment of them under the Toxic Substances Control Act, where industry has worked very diligently to find beneficial reuses of byproducts. But now under TSCA they’re treated as new chemicals and so companies that choose to recycle them have the burden of reporting and the liability of that complicated reporting if they don’t get it just right. Whereas, if they’d chosen to simply dispose of it they would have neither the TSCA reporting nor the liability. This has been an issue for our members for some time. Since the mid-2000s we tried to work with EPA to address this and they’ve been rather intransigent. That’s why we worked with Congress. You heard Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) speak two nights ago about this issue and you heard it mentioned last night, both by Mr. Shimkus (R-IL) and Mr. Reed (R-NY), both of whom we worked with.

Under the legislation in the Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act that was signed last summer, the EPA is required to conduct a negotiated rule-making. That’s where all parties involved sit down—EPA, industry, environmental groups, recyclers, all get a seat at the table—and we try to find common ground. The EPA will take that input and then, under the law, propose a rule in three years and finalize a rule in three-and-a-half years. We talked about that, and the process is already underway. The first public meeting will be next week and IPC will be represented by myself and Bret Bruhn. Bret is the environmental operations manager with TTM, in Oregon. He also chairs IPC’s EHS committee.

We mentioned that to the administrator and said we were looking forward to working with him on that. The reason for bringing it up was to reinforce our hope that EPA will be a good faith participant in the negotiated rulemaking. In the past, as I’ve mentioned, they’ve been somewhat intransigent on this issue. We had many meetings where they’d say they’d do something, agree with us and say it sounds reasonable…

Goldman: And then nothing happens.

Abrams: Exactly. So, we’re looking forward hopefully to a new attitude, new beginning with this administration. That was the first issue that was raised. The second one is the reporting of lead under the Toxic Release Inventory. It’s part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. It’s purely a reporting exercise.

There’s no actual environmental protection and as we pointed out to EPA, the reporting threshold is based on used, processed or stored. So a lot of our EMS members, in fact 32% of all companies that reported to TRI, reported zero pounds released. They spend, by EPA’s estimate, about $9,000 per facility. Bhawnesh Mathur, President of Creation Technologies and Chair of the IPC GR Committee, said he has six facilities that all filed that they had reported zero pounds and they must do that every year.

Goldman: That’s a substantial cost.

Abrams: He said he thinks that cost is much higher, that it’s underestimated. In any case, as the administrator said, “So every year you do this to tell us every year that you release no pounds?” We said, “Yes.” He noted that 100 pounds was a pretty low threshold. We said it used to be 25,000 pounds until EPA lowered it, and he asked what the basis was for that.

To read the full version of this interview which appeared in the July 2017 issue of The PCB Magazine, click here.

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