Children's Health Not What It Used to Be — for the Kids or EPA

At a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on March 17, John Stephenson, director of Natural Resources & Environment at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), explained that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had identified children's health as a cross-agency program in its 1997 and 2000 strategic plans but somehow lost its way in the plans following and to date.

In January, GAO released its report, Environmental Health: High-level Strategy and Leadership Needed to Continue Progress toward Protecting Children from Environmental Threats. Stephenson's remarks referred to information in the report.

He noted that EPA's latest draft strategic plan did not include children's health as a target area. In addition, the Office of Children's Health was not a lead office for developing the plan's Healthy Communities and Ecosystems goal. Stephenson noted that agency staff suggested that office was not "central" to the process because it does not implement or oversee any EPA programs or sub-objectives for that goal.

The Office of Children’s Health Protection and its Advisory Committee were established as a resource for the agency, but GAO found that leadership changes have impaired staff efforts to fulfill its commitments.

The report recommended EPA update and reissue a child-focused strategy and articulate children-specific goals and also urged Congress to re-establish a government-wide task force on children's environmental health risks (an similar body set up by Executive Order was not renewed). The GAO suggested that Congress require periodic reports about federal research findings and research needs regarding children's environmental health.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, (R -Okla.), ranking member of the committee, said "the report does not fully address … that EPA must always balance recommendations on children's health with objective scientific standards, legal requirements, and practical realities." The senator also said that he agreed with the GAO's favorable view of the National Children's Study. "But, in contrast to what some of the witnesses will say … I do not believe that EPA needs additional congressional authority to specifically protect children's health," Inhofe said. "Rather, I believe that EPA has the existing authority and processes in place to build upon ongoing federal efforts to properly protect children's health."

Those witnesses included Peter Grevatt, director, EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection and Environmental Education; Gina M. Solomon, Natural Resource Defense Council, Berkeley, Calif.; Cynthia Bearer, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, on behalf of the Children's Environmental Health Network; and Ted Schettler, Science and Environmental Health Network, Ann Arbor, Mich.

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