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Joint Hearing of the Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health Subcommittee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee - "Oversight of EPA Authorities and Actions to Control Exposures to Toxic Chemicals"

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

I want to start by thanking Chairman Boxer and Chairman Lautenberg for holding today's oversight hearing; I also want to thank today's witnesses. Modernization of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is very important but before we focus on today's hearing I would like to take a moment to address the markup of Senator Lautenberg's TSCA bill tomorrow.

Senators Vitter, Crapo, Alexander and I sent a letter to Senator Lautenberg yesterday expressing our disappointment that Republicans' sincere efforts to work on bipartisan TSCA reform have been rebuffed and that we will be going through a partisan political exercise tomorrow, effectively ending hopes for TSCA modernization this year. Tomorrow's markup is especially disappointing given how this committee has recently come together and worked so hard to get a highway bill passed into law and leading into our important bipartisan efforts to see if we can complete a Water Resources Development Act reauthorization. Despite our frustration, we will continue working to find a bipartisan path for TSCA modernization moving forward.

Chemistry is essential to our economy and plays a vital role in the creation of ground-breaking products that make our lives and world healthier, safer and more sustainable. During this fragile economic time, the chemical industry is experiencing a competitive resurgence and with more than 96% of all manufactured goods dependent on chemistry, it is not hard to understand how this regulation impacts almost every aspect of our economy. Having said that, it is imperative that any TSCA modernization efforts be bipartisan, based on sound science, protective of public health, and continue to allow American industry to lead the world through responsible innovation.

One subset of chemicals regulated by TSCA is flame retardants. These chemicals, which are required in many instances to meet mandatory federal and state laws and standards, not only protect household goods like upholstered furniture, but also electronics, cars, buildings, and airplanes. Despite the recent focus on furniture, foam cushioning in upholstered furniture represents only 2-3% of the total flame retardant usage in plastic applications in North America.

Flame retardants are one of many fire safety tools relied upon in homes and public places to reduce fire injuries and deaths, and they have made a significant impact in fire safety despite the increase in exposure to flammable materials in our daily lives.

Studies in the U.S. and abroad have proven the effectiveness of flame retardants in a wide variety of uses. For example, Dr. Matt Blais recently analyzed data from a National Institute of Justice arson study and found that flame retardants do provide measurable fire safety benefit in upholstered furniture by providing time for families to escape and increasing available response time for the fire service.

The Chicago Tribune, which we will be hearing a lot about today, reported in 2005 on the effectiveness of flame retardants in "seat cushions, carpets, and other materials" following the crash of an Air France jetliner in Toronto when flight crews evacuated the "flaming jumbo jetliner" with no fatalities.

As these reports have outlined, flame retardants can be an important and effective tool in protecting the American public. Any decision made by EPA or any other federal agency should be based on sound, peer-reviewed science - not politics or articles in newspapers - and the Agency should be very cognizant of shifting risks from one area to another.

As a father and grandfather of 20 children and grandchildren, I fully recognize the fact that we need to modernize TSCA and revive public confidence in our federal chemical management system, but if we want to effectively update TSCA we also need to be honest about our current system - both about what it does well and what needs improvement. For example, even the EPA has acknowledged there are far fewer than 80,000 chemicals actively in commerce today.

We have also to hear from numerous witnesses in this Committee, including Dr. Lynn Goldman, former Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances under President Clinton, that EPA's new chemicals program has been a good process and has led "industry to screen out "bad actors' before presenting them to EPA in the first instance."

Given the regulatory barrage by the Obama Administration and his EPA, we must ensure that TSCA modernization is accomplished in a responsible manner while not harming the economy and shipping jobs overseas. In order to have real and effective reform, it must be accomplished in a bipartisan way with a broad base of support from a wide range of stakeholders, including those up and down the value chain.

I would like unanimous consent to include Dr. Blais's study into the record as well as a letter from the aerospace industry voicing concerns over EPA's current initiatives related to flame retardant chemicals. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today.


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