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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the Conference on the Future of US Chemicals Policy, As Prepared

10/06/2009
As prepared for delivery.

One week ago today, I announced a new framework for reforming chemical laws in our country. Our administration has outlined six core principles to guide the work ahead of us. I’ll talk more about that in just a moment.

But first let me say that that announcement – something critical to the health and welfare of millions of Americans – would not have been possible without the support of such a wide range of stakeholders.

I was reading on my Facebook page last Thursday and one of the comments said: “Your announcement from SF of the Administration's principles for chemicals policy reform generated a collective cheer at Environmental Working Group. Thanks!”

Please allow me to return that thanks: to the EWG, the American Chemistry Council, the leaders in Congress who have been out front on this, the many local and national organizations that have drawn attention to these issues, and the individuals who have been beating this drum. We appreciate your support. Now we have to go to work to capitalize on it. I will say more about all that, but let me step back and talk about some of the other things we have been doing. TSCA reform was one of many changes we announced – in just the last month.

On September 10th, we took a step in an historic effort to revitalize the Chesapeake Bay. I received draft reports from multiple federal agencies outlining new strategies for bold action. That was in response to President Obama’s May 12 Executive Order calling for real results for the Bay and its 64,000 square miles of watershed. We plan to have an operational strategy in place on May 12, 2010 – one year after the President issued his Executive Order.

The very next day, we announced our intention to review 79 mountaintop mining project permits, to ensure that they are in compliance with the Clean Water Act. This, of course, is a complex issue that has ramifications for our environment, our economy, and our energy supply. EPA is working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers to address all of those concerns.

Four days later, on September 15th, the Secretary of Transportation and I signed a proposal setting standards of 35.5 MPG by 2016, and containing the first ever national action to significantly control greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. The proposed standards would require an average fuel economy of 35.5 MPG in 2016 – a level that would reduce oil consumption by an estimated 1.8 billion barrels, prevent greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 950 million metric tons (the equivalent of about 42 million cars) and save consumers more than $3000 in fuel costs. This is win-win for our health, for our environment, and for our economy.

One week later, we finalized a rule to require our nation’s largest facilities to report greenhouse gas emissions. That will allow us to more accurately track approximately 85 percent of all US emissions while only requiring a small percentage of facilities – about 10,000 out of tens of millions of American businesses – to report.

And on my trip to California last week – in addition to principles for chemical reform – I announced a proposed rule to begin reducing emissions from the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. I announced that at Governor Schwarzenegger’s Global Climate Summit, where I was also joined by Harrison Ford – which was all very exciting. If you had told me when I started at EPA -- which was back in 1987 -- that this was where I was going to end up, I'm not sure what would have surprised me more: that I would one day become Administrator of the EPA, or that as Administrator I would be working with Han Solo and the Terminator. I was worried that I would be the only one on stage without my own action figure.

Under the proposed rule, large facilities would be required to adopt the best, most efficient technologies available when they are constructed or upgraded, helping us significantly reduce greenhouse gases from sectors that account for nearly 70 percent of non-vehicle emissions. This is a common-sense measure, tailored to facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. Along with emissions cuts, it will accelerate the use of efficient, clean technologies across the entire economy. In short, it allows us to do what the Clean Air Act does best – reduce emissions for better health, drive technology innovation for a better economy, and protect the environment for a better future – all without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy.

This is change. Recently, I’ve been saying that we’ve accomplished more in these last 8 month than in the last eight years. Frankly, that might be true of the last one month. And we have a long way to go.

Which brings me to the topic of the day: the future of our chemical policy. Everything from our cars, to the cell phones we all have in our pockets are constructed with plastics and chemical additives. The technological revolution that my two sons take for granted has made chemicals ubiquitous in our economy and products – as well as our environment and our bodies. The EWG has provided some startling research showing that our kids are getting steady infusions of industrial chemicals before we even give them solid food.

Now, we know some chemicals may be risk-free at the levels we are seeing. But as more and more chemicals are found in our bodies and the environment, the public is understandably anxious and confused. Right now, we are failing to get this job done. Not only has TSCA fallen behind the industry it’s supposed to regulate – it’s been proven an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects. As you all know: our data is insufficient. EPA’s authority to require information and testing is limited – and rife with obstacles even in the places where we are technically authorized to act.

Since 1976, EPA has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals determined to present an unreasonable risk. Five from a total universe of almost 80,000 existing chemicals. In 1989, a court overturned EPA’s rules on asbestos because – despite clear evidence of risk – the rules failed to clear the many hurdles for action under TSCA. We know far too little about new chemicals coming into the market. And as states and other countries take action, manufacturers have far too little certainty on how they will be regulated.

Senator Lautenberg, Chairman Waxman, Senator Boxer, Congressman Rush and others in Congress have already recognized that TSCA must be updated and strengthened. EPA needs the tools to do the job the public expects. To give us those tools, we have established our six principles to guide the reform efforts:

First, we need to review all chemicals against safety standards that are based solely on considerations of risk, and we must set these standards at levels that are protective of human health and the environment.

Second, safety standards can’t be applied without adequate information, and responsibility for providing that information should rest on industry. Manufacturers must develop and submit the hazard, use, and exposure data demonstrating that new and existing chemicals are safe. If industry doesn’t provide the information, EPA should have the tools to quickly and efficiently require testing, without the delays and procedural obstacles currently in place.

Third, both EPA and industry must include special consideration for exposures and effects on groups with higher vulnerabilities – particularly children. Children ingest chemicals at a higher ratio to their body weight than adults, and are more susceptible to long-term damage and developmental problems. Our new principles offer them much stronger protections.

Fourth, when chemicals fall short of the safety standard, EPA must have clear authority to take action. We need flexibility to consider a range of factors – but must also have the ability to move quickly. In all cases, EPA and chemical producers must act on priority chemicals in a timely manner, with firm deadlines to maintain accountability. This will not only assure prompt protection of health and the environment, but provide business with the certainly that it needs for planning and investment.

Fifth, we must encourage innovation in green chemistry, and support research, education, recognition, and other strategies that will lead us down the road to safer and more sustainable chemicals and processes. All of this must happen with the utmost transparency and concern for the public’s right to know.

Finally, we need to make sure that EPA’s safety assessments are properly resourced, with industry contributing its fair share of the costs of implementing new requirements.

These principles also accompany actions to strengthen our existing work under the current law. As we work towards comprehensive reform, EPA will take Risk Management Actions on Lead, Mercury, Formaldehyde, PCBs, Glymes, and Nanomaterials. We are also developing chemical action plans on other chemicals of concern. We will accelerate efforts to gather critical information needed to make chemical risk determinations. That will include filling gaps in health and safety data on high production volume chemicals, as well as enhanced, transparent, and more current reporting of use and exposure information. We will review the ways that nanoscale materials are reported under TSCA. And we will work to improve transparency and public access to information about the chemicals the encounter in their homes and environment.

We have lots of work ahead of us. And I am grateful that the call for change is rising from all quarters. There are differences of opinion and important details to be worked out. But the common ground that exists makes me optimistic about what we can accomplish. Assuring chemical safety in a rapidly changing world, and restoring public confidence that EPA is protecting the American people is a top priority for me, my leadership team, and this Administration.

This is a transformative moment. We are likely to look back and see far-reaching changes. For our environment, this is a time unlike any I have seen in two decades of work on these issues. Our towering challenges are dwarfed by some of the greatest opportunities we have ever seen to protect our health and our environment. I hope it’s clear to you that I – and all of my colleagues at EPA – fully intend to seize those opportunities.

Thank you all for being here today and for being committed to this important issue. I look forward to working with you.