OPENING STATEMENT BY SENATOR INHOFE: Oversight of Recent EPA Decisions
February 6, 2007
Thank you, Madam Chairman. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak about each of the six subjects we are addressing in today’s hearing.
In the early days of the Clean Air Act, the NAAQS process as a whole probably worked because it required the collection of all health science related to the relevant pollution issues. But as the sheer volume of scientific information increased dramatically, what once worked became an unmanageable monstrosity of data – often irrelevant data – that slowed the gears of the EPA regulatory process.
So now, as a result, the NAAQS review process is no longer managed by the Agency, but by the courts. To meet statutorily required deadlines, the EPA needed a new approach. I think the reforms EPA has announced are a major step in the right direction. And perhaps the single most important reform that EPA has come forward with is the focus of its scientific research efforts toward answering the most relevant questions that need to be answered to effectively review the NAAQS standards.
NAAQS - LEAD
The NAAQS staff paper on lead is an example of a document written by mid-level EPA staff, without input from high-ranking officials, that is only one step – and a sometimes unnecessary one – of the many steps in the NAAQS review process.
In the past 35 years, we have taken 97% of the lead emissions out of the air in the United States – one of the major environmental success stories in our nation’s history. While it is important to remember our successes, I believe we should focus our attention most directly on the major pollution problems still facing us. As I have not yet looked at the underlying science pertaining to this subject, I do not yet have a full enough understanding of the issue to have an informed opinion of what direction the EPA should take with its lead NAAQS program. However, the fact that we’re discussing this today is yet another example of why it’s important that EPA reform the NAAQS process.
ONCE IN, ALWAYS IN
Perhaps no rule better exemplifies the inflexible command-and-control mechanism than the "Once-in, always-in" rule. The simple fact is, we have much anecdotal evidence that suggests many plants would reduce their emissions of air pollution to avoid the expensive paperwork compliance costs of being treated as a major source. And to my knowledge, anecdotal evidence does NOT exist that plants would increase their air pollution if they were instead treated as an area source. I commend Administrator Johnson for publishing a proposal that will collect vital information to examine whether indeed a little flexibility here in Washington can lead to large pollution reductions in the rest of the country.
PERCHLORATE / UCMR
Another subject we are going to discuss today is EPA’s decision to not list perchlorate on its second Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Report (UCMR2) and, more broadly, EPA’s process for determining whether perchlorate should be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. It should be noted that EPA did list perchlorate on its UCMR1. When this Committee created this process, it was designed to be a one-time occurrence to collect a discrete data set from which to judge the need for a drinking water standard. As stated in the Senate report to accompany the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments, "The Administrator is to revise the list every 5 years removing the contaminants for which sufficient information has been collected to satisfy future regulatory needs." As EPA noted in the final UCMR2 rule, "The data collected [from UCMR1] represents a statistically valid set of high quality data that will inform EPA on the occurrence and potential exposure to perchlorate from public drinking water supplies."
Now that EPA has data related to perchlorate’s occurrence in drinking water, the Agency must gather better information on the relative source contribution from other sources, primarily food. Research into this very important subject, how much perchlorate comes from what source, continues aggressively.
Perchlorate is not only an industrial product vital to our national defense industry and space exploration, but also a naturally occurring substance. It has been found in places where there is absolutely no possible connection nexus to the Department of Defense or NASA. It has also been found in our nation’s food supply. So it is critical that EPA fully understand how much exposure comes from drinking water and how much comes from natural and other sources before we set out creating an unfunded mandate on our local drinking water systems requiring them to spend scarce water resources chasing after a chemical over which mother nature has significant control.
I would like to applaud the Agency’s recent efforts to reduce the compliance burden associated with the Toxic Release Inventory, while at the same time giving reporters incentives to decrease their releases of toxics. EPA’s revised TRI rule allows for certain reporters to use the shorter TRI Form A instead of the longer Form R. I appreciate the careful balance EPA has struck between burden reduction efforts and the Agency’s commitment to providing information to the public. I am very pleased that the Small Business Administration is here today, as well as a bona fide small business representative from Baltimore, Maryland – Ms. Nancy Klinefelter. I look forward to hearing from both of them about the burdens placed on small business by the TRI program and how EPA’s Form changes will ease those burdens.
Nearly four years ago, the EPA began planning to modernize its library system, which has resulted in EPA consolidating its resources, making its information more accessible than ever before online, and saving $2 million in the process. EPA has maintained 26 libraries located in Washington and at its regional offices, but the number of people walking into any of these libraries has steadily decreased. Let me provide some examples. EPA reports that at the Region 6 library in Dallas, three people walked in per month over the past three years. At the Region 7 library in Denver, 20 people walked in during a seven-month period just last year. At the Region 5 library in Chicago, most people who walked in were simply looking for directions. At the library here in Washington, EPA’s own employee use has dropped 71% over the past two years. It’s no wonder these libraries were closed.
However, all information held at these closed libraries and the other remaining libraries remains available to EPA employees and the public online. Through EPA’s Online Library System, anyone can access information in EPA’s library collections and either view documents online or request documents through a library loan with EPA from nearly 42,000 libraries in the United States and around the world.
Not surprisingly, these changes have been met with some hysterical criticism. One of our witnesses today has written that EPA is now withholding "life-saving information." The director of a public employees group has even gone so far to say that EPA’s actions "threaten to subtract from the sum total of human knowledge." I have discovered that these criticisms appear to be unfounded, and I am glad the Administrator is here to shed further light on EPA’s library plans.
Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this morning.