Is Small Business Blocking Updated PELs?

Little progress could be detected at a July meeting of those working to modernize permissible exposure limits (PELs), according to Peg Seminario, health and safety director of the AFL-CIO.

She confirmed reports by other stakeholders that small business representatives are throwing up the biggest obstacles to the effort.

"We are not holding things up, but we are interested in protecting small businesses," countered Andrew Langer, manager, regulatory policy at the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB)

He said NFIB's last proposal was to update 30 PELs with a pilot project that would be an experimental process, rather than a permanent law.

"Some of our colleagues do not agree," Langer explained. "They want a permanent expedited rulemaking process, without an evaluation of how it affects small businesses."

Langer said his organization is open to other proposals, but because larger companies are already following stricter PELs, he believes the new rules are aimed at small businesses. Therefore, it is appropriate for small companies to be most concerned about changes to the status quo.

Last year, Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, told chemical industry stakeholders that if they could reach agreement on how to proceed, he would introduce legislation to update PELs.

"At this point we've gotten pretty close," asserted Norwood in a recent interview. "But these groups don't trust each other, so it's hard for them to give."

Seminario and others at the meeting believe there is still interest in reaching agreement, and the stakeholders plan to convene at least once more in September. But Seminario spoke of this as the last chance for achieving consensus before reporting back to Norwood and the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Major Owens, D-NY on "where things ended up."

She also questioned Norwood's insistence on total consensus among stakeholders as the necessary condition for progress. "We do need some leadership here," she asserted. "Why should the small business people agree to something? Big business agrees, but as long as any one party has a veto right, I don't think it's going to happen."

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