Friday, December 11, 2009

Statement of Ranking Minority Member James Inhofe - Senate Hearing on TSCA Chemical Control Reform

I have been posting the statements of key participants in the recent Senate EPW Committee hearings on TSCA chemical control reform. Previously I posted the Chairwoman's opening statement and the statement of the EPA Administrator. Today is the opening statement of Ranking Minority member James Inhofe.

Opening Statement
Senator James M. Inhofe, Ranking Member
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full Committee and Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health joint hearing entitled, “Oversight Hearing on the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act.”
Wednesday, December 2, 2009 2:30 p.m.

Thank you, Chairman Boxer and Chairman Lautenberg, for holding this oversight hearing on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

For over 30 years, TSCA has provided a scientifically sound, risk-based framework for reporting, testing, tracking, and restricting chemical substances and mixtures. This is the first of several hearings to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the law, and I welcome this debate.

We will hear testimony today from federal witnesses covering how TSCA could be improved, the areas where EPA could do better, and how the science and scope of chemical review has evolved over the years. However, in addition, I encourage you to discuss ways in which TSCA currently succeeds in protecting human health and the environment.

Senator Lautenberg has, in previous years, introduced several versions of the “Kids Safe Chemicals Act.” The legislation would eliminate the current risk-based review system under TSCA and force EPA to use the precautionary principle – a regulatory principle that I adamantly oppose. Senator Lautenberg has indicated that he will again introduce legislation to amend TSCA. In the interest of moving balanced, effective TSCA reform legislation, I urge you, Senator, to introduce a bill driven by risk-based analysis rather than the precautionary principle.

EPA, NGOs, and industry have recently issued statements supporting changes to TSCA, along with their principles on how the law should be amended. Some of these principles seem reasonable to me, while others do not. Some of the ideas do not require new legislative authority and could be accomplished under TSCA by regulatory changes. For the record, I believe that any changes to TSCA - statutory or regulatory - must adhere to the following fundamental principles:

- Reviews must use data and methods based on the best available science and risk-based assessment.

- Reviews must include cost-benefit considerations for the private-sector and consumers.

- Processes must protect proprietary business information, as well as information that should be protected for security reasons.

- Procedures should prioritize reviews for existing chemicals.

- Processes must not include any provision that encourages litigation or citizen suits.

- Reviews must not include any provisions that compel product substitution by commercial interests or consumers.

Following these principles, I believe we can protect public health and the environment while safeguarding jobs and the economy.
[emphasis in original] With that, I look forward to hearing from the federal representatives here today on this important topic.

Before I close, I want to follow up on a letter I sent you yesterday, Madame Chairman, requesting hearings on what is now colloquially referred to as ‘ClimateGate’. Whatever one’s position on the science of global warming—and, Madame Chairman, I think you know mine—one cannot deny that the emails raise fundamental questions concerning, among other things, transparency and openness in science, especially taxpayer-funded science.

What do I mean? Well, in addition to apparent attempts to manipulate data and vilify scientists with opposing viewpoints, there is evidence that some of the world’s preeminent scientists, who receive or have received taxpayer-funded grants, evaded laws requiring information disclosure, including the Freedom of Information Act.

Not only is this a potential violation of law, but it violates a fundamental principle of the scientific method: that is, put everything on the table and allow anyone so inclined to attack it. If research sustains the attack, then the researcher, the scientific community, and the taxpayer can rightly have confidence that the conclusions are sound. If not, then it’s back to the drawing board.

Madame Chairman, as I stated in my letter, for the taxpayer’s sake, let’s look at this controversy, from top to bottom. It has already forced Phil Jones, the head of the UK’s Climatic Research Unit to step aside temporarily. So please join me in calling on the Obama Administration and the IPCC not only to investigate this matter, but to release all of the data in question, to ensure that taxpayer-funded research is conducted according to the highest legal, ethical, and professional standards.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

TSCA Chemical Control Reform May Gain Priority if Climate Bill Momentum Fades

As I have been reporting here, both the House and the Senate have been holding hearings related to the potential reform (or "modernization") of the 33 year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). But activities on introducing a bill have been queued up behind other large legislative efforts like health care and the climate change (cap-and-trade) bill. However, the fact that the climate change bill has lost some momentum may open up a window for chemical control.

Given that next year will be dominated by positioning for a critical mid-term election, it is quite possible that Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s pending legislation to overhaul TSCA - which he said he would introduce in the “coming weeks” (though he has been saying that same thing since this past February) - may actually get a chance to be introduced. Lautenberg had introduced a Kid Safe Chemical Act originally in 2005, then again in 2008, with the bills dying in committee with no action on both occasions. The new version of "Kid Safe" is expected to incorporate ideas offered in several meetings held in 2009 between House and Senate staff and both industy and environmental groups.

While TSCA modernization is likely to be substantially less contentious than the cap-and-trade and health care debates, there will be the inevitable differences between industry and environmental groups on the details of how to get it done. Despite these "devil in the details" issues, there is general agreement on the principles that a new TSCA will have to entail. Among these are that some form of prioritization is necessary for the new law to be workable, that industry will need to provide more health and safety data than required under TSCA, and that there will be incentives for more "green chemistry." Biomonitoring of some sort is also a possible addition to chemical control.

At a recent Senate hearing, EPW Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer stated that TSCA reform is a priority for the committee. Boxer informed Lautenberg at the hearing that “You have my word that TSCA is very high up on my agenda.” With all sides agreeing that some modernization is necessary, this would seem to be a good time for a new law to be passed.

So we'll just have to see if TSCA reform will slip in between other major legislation. I'll continue to provide updates here as they happen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review – Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate by Stephen H. Schneider

Read this book. Seriously. Read it. Those who are familiar with the IPCC and with the climate change discussions will have heard of Stephen H. Schneider. Not only did he receive the collective 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the IPCC (along with Al Gore), Schneider has played an important and often pivotal role in the development of the science over the last four decades. He has also been the focus of much of the climate denialist attacks.

In Science as a Contact Sport, Schneider gives us a reasoned, informative and insightful look into both the history of climate change science and the inner workings of the IPCC process in developing the first four Assessment Reports. Essentially this is a memoir, and through his personal experiences from the center of the scientific debate Schneider opens a window into how the scientific consensus was developed over more than forty years of focused research, as well as glimpses into the initial discovery of the role of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in causing a warming of the earth.

In a writing style that mirrors his real-life tendency of being both in-your-face and humorous, his use of anecdote and metaphor are instrumental in getting the point across and tunneling into the real issues. Climate deniers, as he calls them, have used his earlier work on the cooling of the atmosphere due to aerosol releases to suggest that he is a scientist for any temperature. This is just one example of the way denialists misrepresent his work and the work of others to push their free market agendas. He addresses some of these willful distortions in chapters on how the companies who are most affected by possible policy options “heat up” the debate and in a chapter called “Media Wars: The Stories Behind Persistent Distortion.” He coins the term “mediarology” to define how difficult it is to communicate honestly complex science through the media. And he talks about other tactics used to distort the discussion, where the deniers goal isn’t to inform the truth but to be victorious (defined as “delaying” action). Schneider notes that even though such obvious denier fraud as the “Great Global Warming Swindle,” which was thoroughly debunked as garbage at the time it was released (hundreds of errors and a willful attempt to mislead), is still used by denialists to “support” their charade.

But the main benefit of the book is the “history-in-the-making” aspect of the process. From the inside Schneider relates how scientists first came to suspect that the world was getting warmer, the investigations that were undertaken, the honest disagreements between scientists as they tried to understand what they were observing, how increasing technological and computing capability from the 1970s through the present day allowed greater and more accurate modeling, and how the IPCC process works to develop a consensus. This last part is particularly revealing, as the IPCC insists that there be 100% consensus on the final work product. All parties argue for days to come up with just the right wording, and since the IPCC consists of representatives from the governments of all parts of the world, there were many cases where countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia pushed for more moderate language than the scientists felt was warranted by their review of the scientific literature. The result is two-fold. First, that no one can claim their views went unheard. And second, the final conclusions in the IPCC reports are clearly much more moderated than the science would have predicted. In other words, the IPCC reports are more likely to be underestimating the problem rather than overestimating it. Having followed the process in Schneider’s book, it is easy to see why more recent science tends to show the problem is getting worse, faster than the IPCC predicted.

I recommend this book to everyone looking to get an insider’s view of the history and process of the development of our understanding of climate change.

Other science book reviews.

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference - Getting the News as it Happens

Several outlets are sources of information on the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference running from December 7 to December 18, 2009 in Copenhagen.

The official COP15 web site has continuous news coverage of events and background information.

Also see the web site of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Politico has a special coverage section.

The Washington Post has a special section on climate change that will follow COP15 and related developments.

YouTube will carry videos and a CNN/YouTube debate. See here for an opening video called "Please Help the World."

Twitter is another source of info.

Climate Progress will have updates.

For background information on COP15, you can check out the following: Wikipedia

Keep checking back for updates during the 2 weeks (Dec. 7-18, 2009)