Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Senate Hearing On EPA "Rollbacks"

Feb 6: The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a hearing entitled, Oversight of Recent EPA Decisions. In an opening statement Senator Boxer said, "Late in 2006, EPA rolled back several health protections and reduced public information about pollution. This was a series of unwelcome holiday gifts to the American people. These EPA rollbacks have common themes: they benefit polluters’ bottom line, and they hurt our communities by allowing more pollution and reducing the information about pollution available to the public. Today is the first in a series of hearings. EPA has gone too long without meaningful oversight. I want to send a clear signal to EPA and to this Administration. We are watching. The American public is watching. And no longer will EPA rollbacks quietly escape scrutiny.

Senator Boxer identified a number of items to be discussed including: Weakening the Community’s Right to Know (Toxic Release Inventory, TRI); Closing EPA Libraries; Eliminating Perchlorate Testing; Cutting Scientists Out of the Process of Setting Air Quality Standards; The Lead Air Quality Standard; and Increasing Toxic Air Pollution. She said, "The pattern of these year-end actions is striking-the public interest is sacrificed and environmental protection compromised. Who gains from these rollbacks? Just look at who asked for them, like Big Oil and the battery industry. EPA’s actions and proposed actions make it clear who EPA is protecting. The purpose of these oversight hearings is to remind EPA who they are truly accountable to-the American people."

Ranking Member, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) made a series of comments on each of the six items addressed at the hearing. In brief summary, Inhofe said he thought the NAAQS process reforms announced by EPA were "a major step in the right direction." He said the NAAQS staff paper on lead is an example of a document written by mid-level EPA staff, without input from high-ranking officials. On the subject of perchlorate, he said, "...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..." He applauded EPA on recent efforts to reduce the compliance burden associated with the Toxic Release Inventory. On the library issue he said, "...all information held at these closed libraries and the other remaining libraries remains available to EPA employees and the public online."

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Stephen Johnson, U.S. EPA Administrator; U.S. Government Accountability Office; Chief Counsel for Advocacy for the U.S. Small Business Association; Natural Resources Defense Council; Baltimore Glassware Decorators; American Library Association; Air Lawyer with Holland and Hart; and Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released testimony entitled, Environmental Information: EPA Actions Could Reduce the Availability of Environmental Information to the Public (GAO-07-464T, February 6, 2007). GAO testified on the TRI issue and said, "Although we have not yet completed our evaluation, our preliminary observations indicate that EPA did not adhere to its own rulemaking guidelines in all respects when developing the proposal to change TRI reporting requirements. We have identified several significant differences between the guidelines and the process EPA followed... We believe that the TRI reporting changes will likely have a significant impact on information available to the public about dozens of toxic chemicals from thousands of facilities in states and communities across the country."

Access the hearing website for links to testimony and webcast which should be available soon (
click here). Access a opening statement from Senator Boxer (click here); and a separate release (click here). Access the opening statement from Senator Inhofe (click here). Access the 36-page GAO testimony document posted separately (click here). [*All]