(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new process for chemical entries in the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Subcommittee Members questioned witnesses regarding the effectiveness of the reformed IRIS process announced by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on May 21, 2009.
“It’s a start, but we need to see how this works in practice to tell if it goes far enough. I applaud the new transparency in the EPA process, but this Subcommittee and the GAO will continue to monitor how effective the new process is in assessing the risk of chemicals in a timely manner without interference from other agencies and influence from those who pollute,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC).
For more than two decades the EPA has developed and run a reliable database, IRIS, that records science-based risk assessments for toxic chemicals. IRIS entries are not part of a regulatory process, but are solely summaries of the best science on particular chemicals. During the Bush Administration, EPA found its IRIS program held hostage to officials in the Office of Management and Budget, and other agencies, who stalled IRIS entries as a way to limit the possibility of future proposed regulations. Endless interagency disputation about the science became a proxy for having to wrestle with regulatory solutions; as a result, public health and safety were put at risk.
“I do not believe any arm of OMB should be involved in science questions. Period. That is not their expertise and that is not their job,” added Miller.
The breakdown of the IRIS system left public health offices across the country and around the world without the up-to-date database of chemical risk they had come to rely on. Without accurate IRIS entries, local and state regulators, first responders, and citizens are left without crucial information to help guide their response during an emergency or in considering how to prioritize future regulatory actions. The new process established by Administrator Jackson promises to have EPA fully in charge and to increase the productivity and transparency of the IRIS process—putting it back on track to be a useful asset to the public again.
In an effort to monitor how this new IRIS process unfolds in practice, Subcommittee Chairman Miller wrote a letter to Mr. Gene L. Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), requesting GAO to examine how the new IRIS system works and inform the Committee of their findings. At the hearing the Subcommittee also released a staff report documenting OMB interference in IRIS processes during the Bush Administration.
This is the third Subcommittee hearing on IRIS.