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Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of J. Clarence Davies

  • 2009-Oct-30

This oral history is one in a series that looks at the history of the Toxic Substances Control Act from the perspectives of the individuals involved in its creation, implementation, and execution.

J. Clarence Davies’s interview begins with a discussion of his education, and his uncertainty over whether to become an activist or academic. He settled on becoming a professor of public administration, but realized he wanted to have experience working in government. Davies briefly worked at the Office of Management and Budget as the examiner for the environment, where he found himself continually bombarded by chemical crises. He returned to academia, where he wrote an influential book on pollution and chemical regulation, The Politics of Pollution, but was quickly drawn back to government work. Davies soon became involved with the Ash Council, creating the Environmental Protection Agency. Once at the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), he was asked to draft a proposal for a chemical regulation policy; the legislation underwent several iterations as it proceeded through the administration and Congress. Although it eventually passed, it ended up severely weakened. After his time at the CEQ, Davies continued to work on the regulation of chemicals at several non-profit organizations and at the EPA.

Throughout the interview Davies discussed the difficulties in implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act. These included: reaching consensus on the definition of unreasonable risk; developing criteria for risk-assessment; the lack of toxicity data the legislation was able to procure; and crafting testing rules. He also emphasized the legal constraints within TSCA that hindered creating an effective chemicals control policy and the long overdue need for TSCA reform. Davies concluded the interview by commenting on the fact that a new European chemicals policy and increased regulatory activity among the States, as well as attention from prominent environmental groups, has driven the current TSCA reform process. According to Davies, the most important elements of TSCA to address in reform will be the burden of proof in TSCA, the way new chemicals are treated and defined, a re-emphasis on the cross-media capabilities of TSCA, and confidential business information.

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