Mr. Chairman, a reasonable opportunity to question the nominees and to receive answers to those questions is at the heart of our constitutional role of advice and consent. We owe it to the people we represent to have a full debate before we move forward. Because our time is limited, I will focus today on a few critical issues. But the few minutes we have today cannot be the end of the debate in this Committee.
The nomination for Administrator of EPA is one of the most important we consider in this Committee. EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment, including those most vulnerable to pollution’s effects, plays a key role in the quality of life in every community in this country. This is a subject worthy of serious discussion, especially in light of the direction that EPA has taken. We have seen rollback after rollback at the expense of the health of our families and the environment. We cannot afford to continue this way.
One of the issues I want to focus on today, and Mr. Johnson has played a key role in this issue as I understand it, is the issue of human testing and pesticides, including testing on children.
Pesticides are dangerous by design. They are designed to kill biological organisms. Because of this danger, federal law prohibits them from being labeled or called “safe.”
Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides. The USEPA, National Academy of Sciences, and American Public Health Association, among others, have stated this and treat it as accepted fact. Pesticides can cause cancer and adversely affect a child's neurological, reproductive, respiratory, immune, and endocrine systems, even at low levels. It is also my understanding that EPA’s new cancer risk assessment guidelines for early life exposure finds that children under two may have a tenfold increase in risk from cancer causing substances.
I am very concerned about any EPA program that would allow human testing of pesticides. Testing of pesticides on children is an even greater concern. The moral and ethical issues involved in such a program are very serious. I intend to question Mr. Johnson very carefully about any such programs or plans, including the EPA’s Children’s Environmental Exposure Research Study.
Another serious concern is the Mercury rule that EPA issued just last month that fails to protect human health, including children.
In 2000, EPA made a finding that it was necessary and appropriate to strictly regulate mercury emissions from utilities due to the public health and environmental threat posed by this source of hazardous air pollution. This finding required that maximum achievable control technologies be applied due to the serious nature of the hazard. The finding was reversed by EPA last month in an action approved by Mr. Johnson, the nominee for Administrator before us today. I am sorry to stay this was not a good start on the job.
The original finding was the correct finding and the reversal is not supported by the law or the facts. Maternal consumption of unsafe levels of mercury in fish can cause neurodevelopmental harm in children, resulting in learning disabilities, poor motor function, mental retardation, seizures, and cerebral palsy.
EPA’s failure to fully consider key studies showing cardiovascular and other health threats from mercury emissions from power plants, including a Harvard study and an internal EPA study raises serious questions about whether sound science was relied on in putting together this weak rule. The failure to address those findings is even more troubling in light of information I have received that EPA officials scuttled planned meetings with leading experts on cardiovascular effects of mercury before the rule was issued. The best way to remedy this seriously flawed outcome is to stay the rule for reconsideration.
I also have questions about the Administrations plans to address the shortfalls in the Superfund program. The President’s budget falls far short of what is necessary to address the growing backlog of toxic sites around the country. While the President’s budget proposes $32 million more than enacted this year, it is over $100 million less than what he asked for last year. The Administration has acknowledged the backlog of sites, but there are no plans to address it. According to EPA’s own internal documents, the backlog of cleanup dollars needed could reach $750 million to $1 billion by next year. This program cannot be ignored as the problems grow worse and worse. There are families in this country living with toxic waste in their backyards—real people, including kids are getting hurt and it needs to stop.
EPA plays a central role in these issues and the nominee for Administrator must be prepared to address these problems. A full opportunity to question Mr. Johnson is more than a reasonable request. It is what we were sent here to do.