Good morning. Today’s hearing is a very important one. The Committee has not held a hearing on the chemicals management program at EPA in more than 10 years.
There are many people who come to this hearing with a preconceived notion that the US chemicals management program is broken and that Congress needs to completely rewrite the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). I do not come into this hearing with that assumption and I look forward to hearing from the witnesses how they believe the statute and the program are working. However, it is important to take a look at how our environmental statutes are being put into practice, which is why shining light on EPA implementation of TSCA with this hearing is so important. Government bureaucracies only work well when there is Congressional oversight.
The chemical industry is a crucial part of the US economy. The United States is the number one chemical producer in the world, generating $550 billion a year and putting more than 5 million people to work. More than 96% of all manufactured goods are directly touched by chemistry.
Chemicals are the essential building blocks of products that safely and effectively prevent, treat and cure disease; ensure the safest and most abundant food supply in the world; purify our drinking water and put out fires. They are the foundation for life-saving vaccines, child safety seats, bicycle helmets, home insulation, and Kevlar vests. Innovations in chemistry have helped to increase energy efficiency and to make planes, fighter jets, satellites and space shuttles safer and more secure. We are also on the cusp of new and exciting chemical advances in the form of nanotechnology. These tiny chemicals have the potential to cure cancers, clean up pollution, and make cars stronger and lighter than ever before. To say that chemicals are vital is an understatement.
There are those that suggest the mere presence of chemicals in our bodies is cause for alarm. However, the Centers for Disease Control in its biennial report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals states, “just because people have an environmental chemical in their blood or urine does not mean that the chemical causes disease. The toxicity of a chemical is related to its concentration in addition to a person’s individual susceptibility.”
This is not to say that we should ignore human health and environmental risks if they do, based on scientific evidence, exist. For nearly 30 years, chemical products have been among the most thoroughly evaluated and regulated, covered by more than a dozen federal laws, including TSCA. These statutes are centered on the concept of regulating substances based on risk. I do not believe American chemicals innovation should be stifled by government regulation without the clear identification of risk. We need to ensure that we regulate chemicals based on demonstrated risk not the just the perception or assumption of it. That “precautionary” concept is one that I cannot support.
In reviewing the statute and its legislative history it appears that the Congress was very deliberate in the powers it granted EPA under TSCA and appropriately balanced them with burdens on the private sector. For example, TSCA gives EPA the power to limit or prohibit the manufacture and distribution of a substance if it is found to pose an unreasonable risk. Chemical product makers are required to submit information on all newly developed chemicals BEFORE they are even manufactured. If EPA has concerns, it has the power to mandate testing and then to control or ban it. In nearly 30 years, EPA estimates that 20,000 new chemicals have gone into commercial production by going through the new chemicals review process and never over the objection of EPA.
EPA has also created effective new programs to ensure that we have chemical safety data on those existing chemicals that are produced or imported in the US in large quantities. This program is called the High Production Volume (HPV) Challenge program and covers approximately 95% of current US chemical production and use by volume. Through the program, seventeen types of information are being collected, including physical-chemical properties, environmental fate, and human and aquatic organism toxicity. This information is identical to the internationally-agreed upon Screening Information Data Sets, established by the 30 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
There is no shortage of strong feelings when it comes to chemicals and how they are regulated and managed. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today regarding the success of the chemicals program at EPA and its principal statute. And perhaps we will uncover implementation problems that this committee, exercising its oversight, can encourage the Agency to rectify.