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Fixing EPA’s Broken Integrated Risk Information System

Date: Monday, July 27, 2009 Time: 01:00 PM Location: 2318 Rayburn House Office Building

Opening Statement By Chairman Brad Miller

A little more than a year ago, Susan Dudley, then the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in OMB, and Dr. George Gray, then the head of the Office of Research and Development at EPA, testified before this subcommittee.

The hearing was to examine the stunning lack of productivity in new and revised risk assessments for chemicals in the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS).

Dudley and Gray testified that the productivity problem was a complicated approval process for assessments, which this flow chart produced by EPA illustrated.

But Gray and Dudley said they had solved the problem by developing a streamlined approval process, which this flow chart, also produced by EPA, illustrated.

Gray’s and Dudley’s testimony reminded me of a famous quotation from Marx—not Karl, but Chico: “Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

Gray’s and Dudley’s testimony strained credulity in other ways.

Dudley explicitly denied in her testimony that OIRA, the office that she headed, ever challenged scientific assessments by EPA’s scientists. Scientific assessment of the toxic effect of chemical exposure would not even remotely be OIRA’s job. Our staff today released a report on IRIS that shows that OIRA did just that on several occasions, enough to conclude that intruding on scientific assessments was routine for OIRA. Dudley testified that the “streamlined” process for approving IRIS listings was entirely EPA’s handiwork. Our staff’s report shows that the process was the result of a multi-year, interagency process driven by OIRA, not EPA.

OIRA’s conduct in requiring a perpetual paralysis in approval procedures and intruding on the independence of EPA’s scientists appears to have been intended to keep IRIS from doing its job, and to keep us all in the dark about the public health consequences of chemical exposures. It certainly had that effect. While 70 chemicals were in some stage of review by EPA, EPA averaged three new and revised IRIS entries a year.

The new EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, announced a new process on May 21, 2009. This chart illustrates the new process. If we are to believe our own eyes, the new process is substantially streamlined.

Just as important, discussions between federal government agencies about IRIS listings will be transparent. There is no excuse for keeping interagency discussions secret from Congress and the American people. We are entitled to know the potential health effects of chemical exposures, even if various government agencies find the chemicals very useful.

And no agency can trigger an even more tortured approval process by declaring that a chemical is “mission critical.” Under strict rules of grammar, the word “perpetual” is like the word “naked”: neither allows for degrees. But the IRIS approval process devised by Dudley’s OIRA was perpetual for all chemicals, and more perpetual for mission critical chemicals.

We are interested in hearing today about EPA’s new procedures, and there should be little doubt that the procedures are an improvement. But we will need to see how the procedures work in practice to know whether the procedures are enough of an improvement. The institutional interests and ambitions of federal agencies survive presidential transitions. There will still be agencies that want to use chemicals without annoying restrictions, and may try to avoid risk management issues by obstructing the risk assessment of an IRIS listing. And it is human nature to forsake power reluctantly, even the unwholesome, even sinister power that OIRA exercised over EPA’s scientific assessments.

The American people need and deserve credible, scientifically sound assessments of the health effect of chemical exposures. That means the EPA must be in charge, not OIRA.

This subcommittee will continue to follow the work of IRIS, and I have written the GAO to ask that they closely monitor the new IRIS process as well.



0 - Mr. Kevin Teichman
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Office of Research and Development Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development Environmental P
Download the Witness Testimony

0 - Mr. John B. Stephenson
Director Natural Resources & Environment U.S. Government Accountability Office Natural Resources & Environment U.S. Government Accountability Office
Download the Witness Testimony