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Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of James V. Aidala

  • 2010-May-20

James V. Aidala began working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a college intern in the Office of Pesticide Programs; he returned as a policy analyst in the new Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances (OPTS) after graduate school. From Aidala’s perspective, there was much uncertainty in the early years of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), in part due to challenges with the law’s specificity regarding polychlorinated biphenyls and, later, asbestos and lead, and in part due to logistical, organizational, and legal difficulties in the early years of TSCA. He also felt that the Reagan administration was fatal to a cohesive toxics program.

After leaving the EPA Aidala then worked for the US Senate, the Congressional Research Service, and the House of Representatives, where he found that political interest was always more focused on pesticides than toxics. According to Aidala, the Toxics Release Inventory and the Pollution Prevention Act provided new tools for the toxics office, but also detracted from the core TSCA responsibilities. When he returned to the EPA as an associate assistant administrator, pesticides continued to be the priority. Though he found that TSCA prevented crises, it was difficult to get Congress interested and TSCA had a reputation as an overly burdensome law. The office used voluntary initiatives and other tools to work “under and around” TSCA, while supporting toxics provisions in new laws like the Food Quality Protection Act.

At the end of the interview, Aidala discusses his belief in the original design of TSCA, but mentions that the legal and political burdens it has amassed require wholesale reform. He also feels that now is the time for reform, given the consensus among stakeholders, even those who have long ignored TSCA, like non-profits.

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