Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.
[Note: This post was originally posted as a comment on Gina Solomon's blog post on Huffington Post. The context is a pending budget proposal from the Governor's office in California to eliminate the State's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) under CalEPA and disperse some but not all of its functions to other agencies. This proposal, if implemented, would in my view be truly tragic. If you agree, make your voice heard!]
As someone intimately involved in chemical assessment and policy both in California and nationally, I find the budget proposal to eliminate or atomize OEHHA to be both deeply disturbing and ironic.
Disturbing, because it would dissolve a world-class group of scientists who for decades have delivered scientifically sound, objective assessments of chemical risks. Losing that top-notch expertise would deprive not just the State, but the globe, of a vital resource.
Ironic, because California is poised to lead the nation in advancing a greener and more sustainable chemicals economy through the Governor's signature Green Chemistry Initiative. Losing OEHHA would rip the heart out of that effort, at the very moment the State most needs an objective source of sound information and expertise to guide critical decisions about chemicals.
Governor Schwarzenegger has expressed understandable reluctance to have the Legislature make risk decisions about chemicals, arguing that a systematic approach driven by agency expertise is needed — hence the Green Chemistry Initiative. While DTSC (lead agency for the Initiative) and other agencies within CalEPA bring much to the table, OEHHA houses the core competency needed to objectively and consistently assess chemicals of concern and potential alternatives.
While California clearly faces major budgetary challenges, the huge return on investment that OEHHA (a tiny agency by any standard) provides to the people of California — by anticipating and reducing the health and environmental impacts of chemicals and their enormous associated costs — more than justifies retaining OEHHA intact within Cal EPA.