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Letter to The Honorable David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senators Clinton, Boxer Call on GAO to Investigate EPA's Children's Health Activities

Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barbara Boxer today called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate allegations of repeated failures by the Environmental Protection Agency to adequately protect children's health. In a letter to Comptroller General of the United States, David Walker, the Senators asked the GAO to investigate the agency's apparent neglect of its children's health obligations, including the adequacy of its response to key findings and recommendations of independent scientists and experts serving on EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee. The Senators also asked for a review of EPA actions that apparently downplay the role of children's health protection in agency decision making. Senator Boxer is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senator Clinton chairs the EPW Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health.

In their letter, the Senators point out that in 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency established the Office of Children's Health Protection to strengthen agency protections of children's health from environmental threats. However, in an April 2007 letter to EPA, the advisory committee stated, "we are concerned that the focus on children's environmental health at EPA has diminished," and cited "cases in which EPA has not followed through on its initiatives to protect children," including a failure to implement guidelines to protect children from cancer.

"Environmental pollutants often have a disproportionate impact on children, leaving them even more vulnerable to respiratory and other ailments. We need to ensure that our efforts to protect the environment take into account just how vulnerable children can be to things like smog, fumes, pesticides and other pollutants," Senator Clinton said. "The EPA needs to take more action to protect and prioritize children's health and strengthen health and environmental standards."

"EPA is supposed to play a vital role in protecting children from harmful chemicals in their environment," said Senator Boxer. "I am deeply concerned that the agency is not doing its job, and I am looking forward to working with Senator Clinton to hold EPA's feet to the fire."

Senator Clinton has long been active in efforts to protect children's health. During her time in the Senate, she has introduced the Family Asthma Act and the Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act to help decrease exposures to the environmental pollutants linked to childhood illness. As Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health, she recently convened the first-ever Senate Hearing on Environmental Justice and is committed to improving the EPA's ability to protect populations at a disproportionate risk for adverse health impacts from environmental hazards.

Senator Boxer has made protecting children one of her highest priorities throughout her career. Senator Boxer authored and led the effort to pass the Vulnerable Subpopulations amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, requiring that EPA drinking water standards consider the health effects of contaminants on children and other vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and the elderly. Senator Boxer is a long-time supporter of legislation which would protect children from the harmful effects of environmental pollutants.

[A copy of the letter sent to Mr. Walker follows]

September 13, 2007

The Honorable David M. Walker
Comptroller General of the United States
United States Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20548

Dear Mr. Walker:

In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Office of Children's Health Protection (OCHP) to support and facilitate agency activities with the goal of protecting children's health from environmental threats. The Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC) is the Federal Advisory Committee designed to provide recommendations to the OCHP as they work to ensure that children's health protection is incorporated into the agency's goals. CHPAC members come from industry, government, academia, and nonprofit backgrounds. These physicians, economists, scientists, and other experts are well-qualified to help guide the development of policies related to children's health protection.

EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection was established to:

* Provide support to EPA as it works to implement Executive Order 13045, "Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks",
* Implement EPA's national policy on children's health, including coordination of EPA's children's health protection activities with other agencies, and
* Draw upon the advice and expertise from CHPAC as the Office implements national policy.

In an April 2007 letter to EPA, CHPAC stated "EPA has not maintained its focus on children's issues and has not capitalized on the opportunity to effectively tackle a number of significant existing and emerging environmental challenges." For example, CHPAC is concerned that EPA has not adequately addressed various key recommendations that the advisory committee has made to EPA, such as taking actions to strengthen health and environmental standards for air quality. CHPAC also has identified several critical areas for renewed leadership by EPA, in collaboration with other agencies, including recommending that they:

* Ensure healthy environments where our children live, learn and play,
* Eliminate environmental health disparities,
* Expand critical research to address environmental impacts of children,
* Strengthen the national approach to regulating chemicals and promoting safe alternatives,
* Foster environmental preparedness and prevention for children's health, and
* Commit the necessary EPA infrastructure and inter-agency collaboration to implement the renewed vision.

The EPA Inspector General also raised concerns about EPA's lack of action in addressing its goal of protecting children's health. In its 2004 report, the IG recommended that the Acting Deputy Administrator:

* Expedite the appointment of a permanent Director for OCHP,
* Establish an official children's health contact within each media program to improve coordination and communication, and
* Improve its annual planning process to ensure that resources and priorities are appropriately determined, among other issues.

Due to the wide range of concerns expressed by CHPAC, the Inspector General and others, we request that you investigate the following issues:

* The extent to which EPA consults with the Office and/or CHPAC and implements or rejects recommendations made by the Office and/or CHPAC (These recommendations are publicly available and posted on the EPA's website).
* The process EPA uses for implementing Executive Order 13045, particularly following the merger of the Office of Children's Health Protection and the Office of Environmental Education. We are particularly concerned that EPA has failed to appoint a director to this office since 2002, and are worried that the reorganization of the office has de-emphasized children's health.
* The progress made by EPA to date in addressing a number of the areas identified by CHPAC for renewed leadership by the Agency, with particular attention to the need for strengthening health and environmental standards for air quality.

We believe that EPA should do more to help the Office of Children's Health Protection achieve its goal of protecting children's health.

Sincerely yours,

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Barbara Boxer


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