"Senator [Vitter], I think you and I share the same goals in improving EPA science and as a member of a National Academy panels and the chair of a major panel, I am very aware of your work to promote better science and of the tremendous positive impacts of the formaldehyde report on really changing the way that EPA conducts their risk analysis in their IRIS reports." - Dr. Thomas A. Burke, Ph. D., Professor and Associate Chair at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Excellence in Environmental Public Health Tracking and the Center for Excellence in Environmental Health Practice. Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute, during the Senate EPW Committee hearing on the nominations of Rhea S. Suh, Victoria B. Wassmer, Roy K.J. Williams, and Thomas A. Burke.
Below are a few of the key actions Vitter and EPW Republicans took this year:
Introduction of the Bipartisan Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013
On May 22, 2013, Sen. Vitter, along with the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and 14 other bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA). The Act would overhaul and improve the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), the only major environmental law that has not been significantly updated and has been proven outdated and ineffective. The Vitter-Lautenberg legislation would, for the first time, ensure that all chemicals are screened for safety to protect public health and the environment, while also creating an environment where manufacturers can continue to innovate, grow, and create jobs. The bill currently has 25 bipartisan cosponsors.
Positive statements in support of the CSIA include:
Introduction of the General Duty Clarification Act of 2013
On December 9, 2013, Vitter, along with Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), introduced the General Duty Clarification Act of 2013. The bill would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clarify the vague and confusing "General Duty Clause" of the Clean Air Act. The clause, which currently includes ambiguous language asserting facilities have a "general duty" to identify hazards which may result from a chemical release and to take "necessary steps" to prevent such releases. Despite the Agency's refusal to clarify these terms and ensure uniform regulations across the country, EPA has used this provision to find numerous facilities in violation of the clause. Some environmental groups are urging EPA to utilize the General Duty Clause to regulate chemical site security, which is outside of their jurisdiction and within the regulatory purview of the Department of Homeland Security. The General Duty Clarification Act of 2013 makes the law clear and intends to eliminate abuses.
Oversight of potential regulation of public and commercial buildings
In February, Vitter, along with Sens. Inhofe, Crapo, and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), sent a letter to then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and EPA Acting Assistant Administrator in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Jim Jones, urging EPA to be diligent in any efforts to expand regulations of potential lead exposures in public and commercial buildings. Following a lawsuit settlement agreement between EPA and environmental organizations, EPA began circumventing legal regulatory steps in an effort to regulate commercial buildings, the Senators' letter requests that as EPA moves forward with any rules, "the process is fair, orderly, efficient, and places a shared responsibility on both the public and private sectors to gather the information requested."
Oversight of EPA Risk Assessment Process
Sens. Vitter, Inhofe, and Crapo, sent a letter in February to acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and Director of the EPA National Center for Environmental Assessment Dr. Ken Olden, requesting clarification of the process EPA is using to ensure current draft chemical assessments take into account recommended changes from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). As a result of Vitter's efforts, in April 2011 the NAS reviewed EPA's formaldehyde assessment and issued a final report with broad recommendations to fundamentally reform the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) process. Despite this clear direction from the NAS, EPA has yet to fully implement the much needed reforms and continues pushing forward chemical reviews based on political motivations rather than science.
Questioning the Administration for Choosing Politics Over Chemical Safety Policy
Vitter continued oversight of Administration officials' activities in coordination with radical and unscientific views. In his September letter, Vitter asked Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, about her involvement in various matters related to U.S. chemical safety policy, including her planned participation in a panel preceding the screening of a film featuring emotional and scare tactics regarding exposure to chemicals. Vitter voiced strong concerns that participation in the event was inappropriate, as he pointed out the film's "intended goal is a complete 180 of the ‘objective, science-based approach' the federal program is based on."
Oversight of Chemical Science, regarding Methanol
In October, Vitter sent a letter to Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention of the EPA, regarding the Agency's Final Toxicological Review of Methanol (Non-Cancer), which was released on September 30th. Vitter argued that despite criticisms from the National Academy of Sciences, EPA again failed to use the best available science in their final review, and that the Agency went so far as to intentionally ignore their own peer reviewers.
Continued Oversight of EPA Chemical Assessments following NAS Review
Vitter issued a statement following the release of a NAS report outlining the approach EPA should be utilizing in the future chemical assessment or inorganic arsenic in November. In 2010 EPA released a draft cancer assessment of inorganic arsenic and due to concerns with the science, in 2011 Congress mandated an independent NAS review leading the Agency to scrap their draft assessment. EPA announced plans to redo the toxicological assessment after committing to adopt reforms outlined by the NAS the last time they took the Agency to task on chemical work. The NAS report further gave EPA guidance to properly conduct an assessment.
Oversight of proposed Silica rule impacts on small business and the domestic energy industry
Joining fifteen Republican Senators, Vitter sent a letter in November to Dr. David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor, requesting OSHA convene a small business review panel and further extend the comment period for its proposed silica regulation. Too often Washington bureaucrats rush through rulemakings without fully understanding the regulatory impacts or gathering the needed relevant facts to create workable and informed regulations. The letter requested that OSHA gather and review pertinent information prior to moving forward with rules that could have serious impact on the economy.
EPW Republicans have released additional documents recapping the Committee's work during 2013 on various issues. See below for the complete list of the EPW Republicans 2013 Year End Reviews:
• A Continued Commitment to Sound Science, Conservation, and Fishermen
• The Hearings That Didn't Happen
• Holding EPA Accountable for Clean Water Act Abuse
• Working Toward a More Transparent EPA
• The President's Climate Action Plan and Associated Executive Orders
• Advancing the Dialogue on Sue and Settle