EPA Announces Toxics Reform

Last night the ballroom of San Francisco’s historic Fairmont Hotel was packed with excited 40-somethings. Environmentalists like Sierra Club head Carl Pope (wearing a florescent yellow baseball cap) and representatives from organizations like Earthjustice and NRDC hobnobbed noisily. The buzz was so loud, it could have been made by 15-year-olds waiting to see Miley Cyrus. Instead, it was EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson who showed, and gained two standing ovations for her speech.

During Jackson’s speech, co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Club and PG&E, she revealed that the nation’s 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) would be overhauled. Jackson, whose academic background is in chemical engineering, said that the program is still mired in using old science, and its enforcement tools are “cumbersome.” As outlined by Jackson, the TSCA reform would reset scientific reporting standards, put the burden of proving safety on manufacturers instead of on the government, give the EPA more enforcement authority, and fund green chemistry R&D. In particular, Jackson mentioned the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (found in baby bottles), phthalate esters, and lead as targets of increased enforcement.

Jackson was open in saying that for too long, TSCA and the Clean Water Act have been stagnant. “We’ve done more in the last eight months than was done in the last eight years,” Jackson said of the EPA. However, on other issues, Jackson was less explicit. When an attendee asked a question on Obama’s support for “clean coal” rather than renewable fuels, Jackson replied that coal is inexpensive and provides job, and that the administration wants to make it cleaner. But also that there were no plans to phase it out.

The audience sighed and groaned when Jackson refused to commit to a date for the endangerment finding that would classify greenhouse gases as public health threats and thus allow their regulation under the Clean Air Act. However, Jackson did call for a “giant leap forward” in enforcing the Clean Water Act, something that was sorely lacking under the Bush Administration.