Thursday, March 18, 2010

GAO Report on Protecting Children from Environmental Threats - Senate Hearing

As reported yesterday, the Senate held a hearing entitled "Hearing on the Government Accountability Office’s Investigation of EPA’s Efforts to Protect Children’s Health." EPW Committee Chair Senator Boxer never quite made it to the meeting, but it was ably chaired by Senator Amy Klobuchar who chairs the new subcommittee on children's health. The focus of the hearing was on a new GAO report requested by Congress, and testimony was heard from representatives from EPA and GAO as well as NIOSH, the Children's Environmental Health Network, and the Science and Environmental Health Network. Full testimony can be found at the hearing site link above.

The full GAO report was also released yesterday and can be found at the hearing site. A PDF can also be found here.

The GAO report concludes that "EPA has developed policies and guidance to consider children, but it has not maintained attention to children through agency strategies and priorities." It notes that while "[i]n 1996, EPA created a national agenda on children’s health, and its 1997 and 2000 strategic plans highlighted children’s health as a key cross-agency program," that early momentum was lost during the previous decade. GAO notes that "EPA has not updated the agenda since 1996, and the focus on children is absent from the 2003, 2006, and September 2009 draft strategic plans."

Furthermore, GAO concludes that "EPA has not fully used the Office of Children’s Health Protection and other child-focused resources. The active involvement of managers from the office and experts from the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee has been lacking, as has the involvement of key staff throughout EPA." GAO noted that there seems to be a renewed emphasis under the new administration, but that "[a]lthough EPA now has a new Director of Children’s Health, the office had not had consistent leadership since 2002, hampering its ability to support and facilitate agencywide efforts and elevate matters of importance with senior officials. For example, a previous director established workgroups to bring together officials from the program offices and the children’s health office, but a subsequent acting director eliminated these groups, effectively halting work on a key set of children’s health recommendations. In addition, the regional children’s health coordinators—who provide outreach and coordination for EPA—have no national strategy or dedicated resources. Finally, the advisory committee has provided hundreds of recommendations, but EPA has requested advice on draft regulations only three times in the last decade."

GAO further concludes that despite the critical need for EPA leadership in "protecting children from environmental threats, EPA’s efforts have been hampered by the expiration in 2005 of certain provisions in the executive order. For example, the Task Force on Children’s Environmental Health provided EPA with a forum for interagency leadership on important federal efforts, such as the National Children’s Study. It also provided biennial reports that helped establish federal research priorities."

In short, emphasis on children's health was severely lacking during the last 10 years and while the current administration has taken many steps to reemphasize this issue, more needs to be done.

Based on the questioning yesterday, and Senator Klobuchar's personal interest in children's health (similar comments were also made by Senators Lautenberg and Bill Nelson), it seems clear that the new TSCA reform bill will emphasize the "Kid Safe" component of chemical regulation.

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