If you’re not a chemical policy nut, you likely missed new US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Lisa Jackson’s speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last month. Which is a shame, because it called for a landmark shift in environmental health policy: the EPA’s return to its mandate.
It was a welcome message. For eight years, the EPA had been forced to keep its head in the sand, to wage an ongoing battle against science and the law, and to survive beneath the previous administration’s strict do-not-revive order. Against that backdrop, Jackson acknowledged:
- the shameful blight of environmental racism,
- the reality of global climate change,
- EPA’s recent, appalling decisions to protect industry profits at the expense of people’s health and the environment,
- the de facto deregulation of the chemical industry, and
- the grave threat this poses to public health.
She also urged Congress to give EPA the tools it needs to protect people from toxic chemicals, outlining six principals intended to guide this important effort. (The reform effort goes by the catchy, edge-of-your-seat name of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform.)
Things to cheer in these principals: They call for a legally strengthened and well funded EPA that makes decisions based on science and not on political favors and campaign contributions from industry cronies. They demand urgent action and public access to health data on chemicals. They urge the development of safer chemicals. They pay special attention to the effect of chemicals on children and other sensitive populations. They prioritize human health and the environment over corporate profits.
A federal agency that actually works to protect human health and the environment? It had started to seem like too much to ask for. At least from our perspective here at CEH, where government inaction forced us to step into the void to protect people’s health.
And now that you’ve taken heart in this far-reaching shift, let me urge a sober-minded approach: This marks the beginning of a long process, and one that threatens industrial titans. The chemical industry will call in political favors, make donations, and reach well into its bottomless pockets to derail TSCA reform. You and I will simply not get everything we want from the new, improved EPA.
So here’s the bottom line: The new EPA’s direction is the best news that environmental health advocates have heard in decades. Seizing this historic opportunity, CEH will monitor, support, and keep you involved in the effort to put the ‘P’ back in EPA. This will be a wonky project that involves long acronyms and a byzantine legislative process, but our goal is simple – tangible, meaningful reforms that protect the health of children, families, and communities nationwide.
Stay tuned; it’s going to be a fun ride.