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Oral history interview of the toxic substances control act from the perspective of Charles L. Elkins

  • 2010-Apr-09

Charles L. Elkins witnessed the centralization of federal environmental regulation in the early 1970s, first as an Office of Management and Budget examiner and then in the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Within the new EPA, Elkins worked in the Office of Categorical Programs, where he was involved with the pre-Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Office of Toxic Substances and the Noise Abatement Program. The categorical programs struggled from a lack of constituency and attention compared to the larger water and air pollution programs of the Office of Media Programs. Elkins became the director of the Office of Toxic Substances in 1986. While there were managerial challenges to running the office, the biggest challenge he faced was TSCA’s lack of a coherent mandate; the program instead consisted of several distinct tasks, each beset with procedural impediments. The new chemicals program worked well, and the testing program was considered too unworkable, so he focused on revitalizing the existing chemicals program, primarily by taking action on asbestos. That rule was overturned by the courts.

Elkins laments the lack of involvement by environmental and public health advocates in the Office, limiting the pressure it could exert when negotiating with industry for more stringent voluntary measures. He mentions some voluntary initiatives the Office undertook with industry, and cooperative programs with other federal agencies. He is skeptical that Congressional oversight could have improved the Office’s performance. While the Toxics Release Inventory was not a part of the TSCA program, he thinks it was influential in creating a constituency both within EPA and the public for increased data on toxics.

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