Alexander, GOP Colleagues Call on Administration to Conduct Proper Assessment of Proposed Rule on Silica Exposure

Request 90-day extension on comment period and formation of new small business review panel rather than decade-old report

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 – The senior Republican on the Senate labor committee today led 15 of his Republican colleagues in calling on the Obama administration to conduct a proper assessment of a proposed rule on workplace silica exposure.

In a letter to David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, the senators requested that the comment period for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica be extended and that a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel be convened.

The letter was signed by Alexander and Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), David Vitter (R-La.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)

They wrote: “Last month, you announced an extension of the comment period by 47 days, which we appreciate.  However, we believe OSHA should provide stakeholders a full 90 day extension to give them adequate time to fully review this complex proposal and provide valuable feedback.    We also request all other corresponding dates within the proposed rule be extended by the full 90 days.  In addition, we respectfully request that OSHA convene a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA).  This is an important step to ensure that the concerns of small businesses are properly accounted for.”

Crystalline silica is a mineral found throughout nature, in sand, stone, rock, concrete, and brick—materials used frequently in industries such as construction, mining, manufacturing, maritime and agriculture.

A small business review panel was convened and a report completed on the silica rulemaking—a full decade ago. The senators noted that “the economy has changed significantly in ten years. With the U.S. economy still recovering from a major economic downturn, stakeholders have been forced to reexamine their operations and deal with increased regulatory burdens.” The old report also does not address the impact on hydraulic fracturing operations in the domestic oil and gas industry, but the proposed rule contains new standards specifically for that industry. The senators added: “The impacts and costs on employers in the growing domestic oil and gas industry should be analyzed and included in a new report. Excluding these stakeholders would conflict with the intent and the spirit of the law.”

“OSHA has never relied on a SBAR panel this outdated,” they wrote. “Reliance on a decade old report sets a poor precedent that an agency could use to circumvent the duties it owes small businesses to provide them a voice in the development of new regulations,” they write.

The senators also called on the agency to end efforts asking commenters to disclose their financial backers, which “raises questions about whether OSHA will use that information to prejudge the substance of those comments and could result in dissuading stakeholders from even submitting comments.”

The agency’s request for commenters’ funding sources raises questions, such as: “What is OSHA’s legal authority to request such information; whether a commenter’s funding sources will be publicly disclosed; whether the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved of OSHA’s request; and whether OSHA consulted with any stakeholders before including the request in the proposed rule.”

Click here for a PDF of the letter.

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