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Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of Charles F. Lettow

  • 2010-Apr-23

Charles F. Lettow grew up as a “Sputnik kid,” choosing to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate. He held one job in the chemical industry before serving in the U.S. Army; after his military service he moved into the field of law. He undertook two clerkships, one with the Hon. Benjamin C. Duniway and one with the Hon. Warren E. Burger, and he was then invited to work for the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. There he was involved in the creation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several environmental laws, including the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). He and J. Clarence Davies used the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as their primary model for writing a toxics law that would include both a premarket review and imminent hazard provision. According to Lettow, the law was intentionally not prescriptive in order to give the EPA the flexibility to adapt to innovations, changing uses of materials, and new knowledge about materials. Because of the multifunctional nature of chemicals, they opted for a use restriction provision rather than an FDA-style approval process.

At the end of the interview Lettow discusses his belief that the law should have been workable with a creative bureaucracy. He also talks about the debates surrounding the issues of preemption, citizen suits, judicial review, penalties, administrative searches, and confidentiality. While the law underwent changes during the Congressional debates, Lettow believes it was not substantially different from his and Davies’s draft.

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