SENATOR BARBARA BOXER
Chairman, Committee on Environment and Public Works
OVERSIGHT HEARING ON RECENT EPA ACTIONS
February 6, 2007
(As prepared for delivery)
Late in 2006, EPA rolled back several health protections and reduced public information about pollution. This was a series of unwelcome holiday gifts to the American people.
These EPA rollbacks have common themes: they benefit polluters’ bottom line, and they hurt our communities by allowing more pollution and reducing the information about pollution available to the public.
Today is the first in a series of hearings. EPA has gone too long without meaningful oversight. I want to send a clear signal to EPA and to this Administration. We are watching. The American public is watching. And no longer will EPA rollbacks quietly escape scrutiny.
Weakening the Community’s Right to Know (Toxic Release Inventory)
I am extremely concerned about the Agency’s decision in December to weaken the Community Right to Know rules for toxic chemicals used and released in communities across the country. EPA’s weakening of these rules will quadruple the amount of toxic pollutants that companies can release before they have to tell the public, and will reduce the amount of public information on long-lasting toxins that can build up in the body, like lead.
EPA went forward with these changes despite objections from 23 state agencies and attorneys general, and despite concerns raised by the Agency’s own science advisory board. Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality is just one of the agencies that objected.
Closing EPA Libraries
Last year EPA closed down or cut access to libraries across the nation, including in my state of California. EPA closed or reduced library operations in at least 7 EPA regions covering 31 states.
Since 1970, EPA has gathered a vast treasure trove of public health and environmental information. Closure of the libraries hurts Americans’ right to know about important information regarding the health and environmental hazards of pollution in their communities. The American Library Association and EPA scientists and staff oppose these actions. Despite letters from 18 members of the Senate and a public outcry, the fate of EPA’s libraries remains uncertain.
Eliminating Perchlorate Testing
In December, EPA issued a rule which will result in no further testing of tap water for the toxin perchlorate. This toxin has been found in millions of Americans’ drinking water. GAO says it pollutes 35 states. Perchlorate interferes with the thyroid and is especially risky to pregnant women and newborns. Yet EPA has still not issued a health standard for perchlorate in tap water.
EPA’s original 1999 rule ordered testing for perchlorate, and in 2005 EPA proposed to extend that requirement. But industry objected, and the new rule eliminated the perchlorate testing requirement.
I am deeply distressed that not only has EPA failed to set a standard for perchlorate, but Americans will lack up-to-date information on whether their tap water is contaminated with this toxin.
Cutting Scientists Out of the Process of Setting Air Quality Standards
In December EPA also backtracked on its decades-long policy of having key scientists work closely with EPA experts to help develop a range of recommended safe levels for clean air standards. Now, consistent with the recommendations of the American Petroleum Institute, EPA has taken a dangerous turn. Instead of basing health standards on the best science, they will now inject politics into the entire decision. Under EPA’s plan, key scientists will no longer work directly with top government officials to help set health standards. EPA’s new approach is bad for American families, because it will likely lead to more politics rather than science-based standards, making weaker air standards and more early deaths and illnesses more likely.
The Lead Air Quality Standard
In December, EPA also announced that it is considering whether to revoke the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for lead. The lead acid battery industry had urged this step.
If the standard is revoked, there is no assurance that lead will be monitored in air across the country. Polluters could emit dangerous levels of lead without being detected. Yet, if EPA were to use the new data showing lead is more toxic than previously known, the current lead standard would likely be substantially more stringent. That could force some poorly regulated lead polluters to use better controls.
Lead is a potent brain and nerve toxin that hurts children and the elderly the most. What does it say about our values if we endanger the most vulnerable Americans?
Increasing Toxic Air Pollution
In December, EPA proposed to weaken its rules for controls on toxic air pollution. These rules apply to thousands of sources, including refineries, chemical plants and steel mills.
EPA admits in its proposed rule that the rule could lead to an increase in toxic air emissions. The agency’s own regional offices sent a memo to headquarters saying the rule change could be "detrimental to the environment and undermine the intent" of the Clean Air Act.
Toxic air pollutants include some of the most dangerous cancer-causing and neurotoxic chemicals that pose a serious health threat to American families, especially pregnant women, infants and children. Increased levels of toxic air pollutants will only increase these risks.
The pattern of these year-end actions is striking—the public interest is sacrificed and environmental protection compromised. Who gains from these rollbacks? Just look at who asked for them, like Big Oil and the battery industry. EPA’s actions and proposed actions make it clear who EPA is protecting. The purpose of these oversight hearings is to remind EPA who they are truly accountable to—the American people.