Friday, February 5, 2010
First Summary of Senate Hearing on TSCA Chemical Reform
As reported previously, the Senate held a hearing yesterday on TSCA reform in anticipation of Senator Lautenberg's expected introduction of an updated Kid Safe Chemical Act. The focus of the hearing was on the "current science on public exposures to toxic chemicals." Prepared testimony for each witness can be found on the EPW web site. Here are my first impressions of the hearing.
First, it was a bit perfunctory and not a whole lot new seemed to be presented. After senior Senators gave opening statements (which are almost always perfunctory), the first panel consisted of a largely returning cast of regulators who gave largely reiterative testimony. Assistant Administrator Owens reiterated the EPA "principles," Dr. Falk of CDC reiterated what CDC has been doing in their biomonitoring program, John Stephenson of the GAO reiterated what he has said in various hearings and GAO publications, and NIEHS Director Birnbaum reiterated the ongoing toxicology and biomonitoring work of her agency. It's not that these weren't important, but that they were pretty much what has already been said before.
Second, while the first panel were largely unemotional regulatory and scientist presentations, the second panel went for the heartstrings. Molly Jones Gray is a young mother who participated in the Washington Toxics Coalition biomonitoring program when she was pregnant, and was shocked to find that she had many "toxic" chemicals in her body and in her son's body when he was born. Dr. McKay of Hartford Hospital agreed that it is important to deal with issues such as the 100% lead charm mentioned by Senator Klobuchar in her remarks, but warned that we should not expect to see zero risk and that the benefits of chemicals should also be considered. Dr. Tracey Woodruff talked about women's health, in particular reproductive health, and the possible influence of chemicals. And the session wrapped up with an impassioned and animated presentation (including pictures of children splashed on a wide screen TV set up in the hearing room) by Ken Cook, co-founder and President of the Environmental Working Group (an NGO that has done some biomonitoring work). The intended effect was to draw out the natural emotional and protective instincts that all parents have for their children. In essence the second panel said largely the same things as the first panel, but it likely had much more impact.
Third, Senator Lautenberg will clearly be introducing the new bill "soon." While "soon" has been a bit of a moving target it is obvious that it now means a matter of weeks (I would say at the latest it will be Earth Day, April 22nd, though I believe the intention is to get it out by sometime in March). Full Committee Chair Senator Boxer was effusive in her praise for Senator Lautenberg's work. She also signaled what can be anticipated to be a "passing of the torch" as she thanked Senator Klobuchar for taking on the Chairmanship of a new Subcommittee on Chidren's Health. Given that Lautenberg is now 86 years old and the emphasis on children's health in the "new TSCA," it seems likely that Senator Klobuchar will take over the mantle in this area.
Fourth, while industry, NGOs, the public, academics, and regulators all agree that TSCA definitely needs to be modernized, it was clear that the party talking points are still a major factor in the ongoing discussions. Platitudes abounded from both sides from those Senators who attended (which wasn't many, and most didn't stay long). That said, Senator Lautenberg seemed to understand the importance of chemicals in every day life (and said so), as did other Democratic Senators. Senators Inhofe and Vitter, however, seemed to be simply mouthing the Republican "government is overstepping authority" lines without really caring if they sounded like parodies of themselves.
Fifth, EPA will press on while TSCA reform is being debated in the Congress. EPA has made it clear in words and actions that they intend to "use to the fullest" what they believe to be their current authority under TSCA.
I'll follow up this post with some ideas of what I think the new version of the Kid Safe Chemicals Act will include. I'll also offer some take away points from the testimony given in yesterday's hearing.
Stay tuned. We'll be seeing a lot of activity on TSCA reform in the next few weeks.