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#359 - The Risks Of An Environmental Presidency, 13-Oct-1993

The Clinton administration is far along toward achieving environmental
goals that President Bush and Vice-President Dan Quayle tried to reach
but couldn't. Specifically, the Clinton administration has now:

(a) generated a bandwagon effect in Congress to get rid of the Delaney
clause, the law that forbids the government from approving food
additives that cause cancer in humans or animals;

(b) issued an Executive Order that officially embeds "risk assessment"
into the "philosophy of regulation" that guides all government
regulatory agencies; and

(c) cut the budget of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by $217
million for 1994, leaving EPA with a 1994 budget that is $485 million
less than the agency's budget was in 1980 (in constant dollars).[1]

Dumping Delaney

In testimony before Congress September 21, the administration urged
lawmakers to get rid of the Delaney clause (the law that says the
government cannot approve, for processed foods such as soup and
ketchup, food additives shown to cause cancer in animals or humans).[2]
In place of Delaney, the administration urged Congress to substitute
risk assessment and to adopt the idea that "one in a million deaths" is
a "negligible risk."[3] Under the administration's proposal, toxic
residues from each chemical on each type of food would be capped so as
to kill no more than one citizen out of every million citizens each
year. Since there are approximately 250 million Americans, residues
from each food-use of each pesticide would be capped so as to kill no
more than 250 Americans each year, maximum.

Of course the effects would be additive; residues of pesticide A on
CARROTS would be set to kill no more than 250 people each year;
residues of Chemical B on CARROTS would be set to kill another 250
people, maximum. Residues of Chemical A on APPLES would be set to kill
another 250 people, maximum, and so on. No one knows--or even knows how
to calculate--the total number of human deaths and other damage that
would be allowed under the administration's proposal.

There are somewhere between 21,000 and 24,000 different uses of about
600 individual pest-killing chemicals ("active ingredients") now
approved by the government, though most are not approved for use on
food crops.[4] In addition there are about 2000 "inert ingredients"
mixed into pesticides. Though many of these "inert ingredients" are
themselves toxic and even carcinogenic (for example, benzene), they are
not considered in risk assessments and they are not listed on product
labels, so no one knows who is being exposed to them.[5] The
administration's "pesticide reform" testimony is silent on inert

It seems mathematically certain that thousands of individual "one-in-a-
million" risks do not add up to one "one-in-a-million" risk, but
toxicological science has no way of analyzing multiple exposures,
cumulative exposures, cumulative damage, or multiplier effects known to
occur between different chemicals. Thus the administration's proposal,
in effect, gives blanket permission to the food-chemicals industry to
continue adding new chemicals into the American food supply each year
without anyone ever being able to calculate the consequences. Thus the
chemical industry continues to evade accountability for its behavior,
with the Clinton administration's willing assistance.

The administration HAS expressed concern for food safety. In its
testimony before Congress, the administration promised that if it
learns that a particular food-use of a particular chemical is killing
10 times the allowable maximum of 250 citizens each year, such a
chemical will only be allowed to remain in use for 10 years.[6]

The chemical industry has been trying to get rid of the Delaney law
since 1959,[7] but Congress has always been reluctant to substitute "a
little bit of cancer-causing chemicals in your processed food" for the
Delaney standard of "no approved cancer-causing chemicals in your
processed food." The administration seems to have broken that
reluctance. Since the administration urged Congress to get rid of
Delaney, a bill to do that (H.R. 1627) has gained nearly 200 sponsors
in the House of Representatives and a bandwagon effect is apparent as
we go to press. As of this moment, Delaney seems doomed.

My personal observation is that some of the so-called "pesticide reform
group" of environmentalists in Washington, D.C., have accepted the
demise of Delaney as inevitable and perhaps even desirable because the
administration wants Delaney killed. The D.C. environmental community
has been "on the outs" for a dozen years and is so eager to become "a
player" once again that some groups don't seem to care what game
they're invited to play. In the presence of two dozen national
environmental leaders last May, I heard the head of a major
environmental organization announce to EPA chief Carol Browner, "You
are our general. We are your troops. We await your orders." The result
of such boot licking is now becoming apparent.

Risk Assessment Now Guides All U.S. Regulation

President Clinton quietly signed Executive Order 12866 on September 30,
1993, officially embedding risk assessment in the U.S. "philosophy of
regulation." All federal regulatory agencies will now be guided by a
"regulatory philosophy" that explicitly includes risk assessment. Vice-
President Dan Quayle had tried to accomplish something similar during
the Bush administration but had failed.[8]

Risk assessment is a mathematical technique intended to determine the
probability of certain kinds of damage to humans and the environment
from chemical exposures. Unfortunately, because so little is known
about the way chemicals exert their toxic effects, and because science
has no way of assessing the effects of multiple chemical exposures,
risk assessment can be used to reach nearly any conclusion that a risk
assessor wants to reach. As former EPA chief William Ruckelshaus once
said, "A risk assessment is like a captured spy. Torture it enough and
it will tell you anything."

The chemical industry has been working relentlessly since 1975 to
expand the use of risk assessment throughout government. Executive
Order 12866 is arguably the culmination of their efforts. From the
viewpoint of anyone who wants to spread chemicals into the environment,
risk assessment is a marvelously useful technique: Because it is based
in mathematics, most people can't even understand it, much less
participate in it, so it immediately excludes most of the public from
decisions. Furthermore, because it is mathematical, the result gains an
aura of certainty and precision, even if it is based on "data" that are
nothing more than guesses. Before he became chief of U.S. EPA, William
Reilly wrote, "The National Research Council concluded in a 1984 report
that fewer than 2 percent of the chemicals currently used for
commercial purposes have been tested sufficiently for a complete health
hazard assessment to be made. Adequate information to support even a
partial hazard assessment is available for only 14 percent of the
chemicals; for 70 percent, no information is available. Moreover, these
percentages refer only to human health hazards. In general,
environmental hazards are even less well understood."[9] Never mind
that there are no data. This has never stopped a dedicated risk
assessor from calculating risks to the third decimal place, presenting
the results as factual and reliable, then using the results to support
a political decision to impose unknown risks on the public.

Cutting EPA's Budget

Under the administration's 1994 budget, EPA will have less money than
it had in 1993 for controlling pesticides, toxic substances, water
quality and drinking water. "The cut in EPA's budget is evidence of the
low priority given environmental protection funding by the President,"
said Marc Smolonsky, a budget analyst in Washington.[1] "There will be
scant resources for pollution prevention activities, such as waste
minimization. Without funds for prevention now, future clean up costs
will skyrocket, leaving the impression that the Clinton administration
is penny-wise but pound-foolish on environmental protection programs,"
he said.

"EPA's pesticide program is unable to ensure the safe use of pesticides
and respond efficiently to evidence of high-risk pesticides," Smolonsky
said. "At a time when the administration has announced a plan to reform
federal pesticide policy, it is overseeing a cut in funding for the EPA
pesticide program, which will be reduced by approximately 15 percent."

--Peter Montague


[1] Personal communication October 13, 1993, from Marc Smolonsky,
Executive Director, Environmental Budget Priorities Project,
Environmental Working Group, Washington, D.C.; phone (202) 667-6982.

[2] "Testimony of Carol M. Browner, Administrator, U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, and Richard Rominger, Deputy Secretary, U.S.
Department of Agriculture, and David A. Kessler, Commissioner, Food and
Drug Administration Before Committee on Labor and Human resources
United States Senate and Subcommittee on Health and the Environment,
Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives,
September 21, 1993." 63 pgs.

[3] "Testimony...," cited in note 2, pg. 6.

[4] Shirley A. Briggs, "U.S. Federal Regulation of Pesticides," in
Shirley A. Briggs, editor, BASIC GUIDE TO PESTICIDES (Washington, D.C.:
Hemisphere Publishing, 1992), pg. 282.

[5] EPA recently issued a new list of approved "inert" ingredients; to
get the list, phone Clare Grubbs at EPA: (703) 305-5805.

[6] "Testimony...," cited in note 2, pg. 12.

[7] The early history of Delaney can be found in Edward W. Lawless,
TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIAL SHOCK (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University
Press, 1977).

MANAGEMENT POLICY. (Washington, D.C.: Federal Focus, Inc., 1991). This
report to Vice President Dan Quayle by a conservative think-tank,
provided justification for, an Executive Order they hoped President
Bush would issue. Mr. Bush demurred and the order was never signed.

NINETIES. (Washington, D.C.: The Conservation Foundation, 1977), pg.

Descriptor terms: delaney clause; pesticides; congress; carcinogens;
food safety; risk assessment; regulation; executive order 12866; epa;
budget; negligible risk; inert ingredients; hr 1627; dan quayle; george
bush; william ruckelshaus;