Matt Dempsey 202-224-9797
Opening Statement of Senator James Inhofe
Oversight Hearing on EPA Toxic Chemical Policies
Next, my staff were repeatedly told by the majority staff that GAO was working on an IRIS report, but they weren’t sure if it would be ready in time. This report, in keeping with our Committee rules, was distributed on Friday. However, we now understand that not only was the report completed on March 7, but that Senator Boxer’s office requested that GAO embargo the report for 30 days. While this is occasionally done, Senator Boxer’s Deputy Staff Director went even further to request that the embargo be extended until this hearing. This is not a common practice and I have a letter from the GAO that I would like to enter into the record which discusses this.
My concern in all of this (inviting the wrong EPA witness, withholding from the minority a GAO report for more than 50 days) is that this hearing today appears to be set up as a “gotcha” hearing to try and embarrass the Administration, instead of being a legitimate oversight hearing. If the chairman were truly concerned about oversight and changing policy then she would have shared the report when it became available over a month and a half ago, and she would have invited the correct EPA witness. I understand that at one point she wanted the Administrator, but she invited the TSCA Assistant Administrator.
Oversight works best when it’s done in the open. By not disclosing the true intent of today’s hearing to the Agency and the minority, we are left with at best an incomplete and inclusive attempt at oversight. I believe we need to work together on oversight, such as a hearing examining the ethanol program. This Committee has not held such a hearing this Congress, despite a massive change in the law last year which has increased food prices and is contributing to food riots around the world.
Inhofe Statement on EPA Toxic Chemical Policies
Good morning. Today’s hearing is to examine the adequacy of the mechanisms for the evaluation and regulation of chemicals by the EPA. The subject is important because the chemical industry is a crucial part of the U.S. economy, and we have to be mindful of what we put at risk if we over-regulate this industry and stifle its 30 year history of innovation. Here are some statistics. The United States is the number one chemical producer in the world, generating $635 billion a year and putting more than 5 million people to work. The U.S. chemical industry paid more than $27.8 billion in federal, state, and local income taxes in 2006. More than 96% of all manufactured goods are directly touched by chemistry.
But it is about more than money. 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 medical devices, such as sutures, internal tubing, and scalpels. Innovations in chemistry have made planes, fighter jets, and space shuttles safer and more secure. Plastics are used to make lighter, yet stronger, cars, and silica is an ingredient in low-rolling resistance tires, all of which increases automobile fuel efficiency. Alternative sources of energy, on which cap-and-trade proponents are relying, are dependent on chemicals. Wind power blades contain polyester and resin additives, and solar power relies on silicon-based materials. Finally, chemicals keep our children and our men and women in uniform safe by increasing the effectiveness of child safety seats, bicycle helmets, and Kevlar vests. I could go on and on.
The reason I point all this out is that there are many people who come to this hearing with a belief that the U.S. chemicals management program is broken and that Congress needs to completely rewrite the Toxic Substance Control Act. I do not agree. 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 call for regulation of chemicals 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.
There are also those who have expressed concern over EPA’s risk assessment practices. I am one of them. I have long been concerned about the lack of transparency and participation inherent in EPA’s risk assessment process, as well as how risk is communicated to the public. I was pleased with EPA’s recent changes to the Integrated Risk Information System. These changes allow the public to be involved in the risk assessment process sooner. Now, environmental groups, scientists, and the regulated community can provide data, research, and comments on risk assessments before they are finalized. Additionally, there is now a concerted outreach effort to members of the scientific community and more rigorous peer review. I understand that there are those on this committee who believe this is somehow stifling EPA scientists or putting politics into the scientific process. But I don’t understand how someone can stand up and say they support public right-to-know, scientific community participation and transparency when the Agency makes regulatory decisions but not support those very same principles when it comes to risk assessment. More science means better decisions; more defensible decisions.
As I said two years ago during a toxics oversight hearing I held when I was Chairman, 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 and perhaps we will continue to uncover implementation problems that this committee, exercising its oversight, can encourage the Agency to rectify.