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The Toxic Substances Control Act: 
from the perspective of J. Clarence Davies

  • Born: November 16, 1937, New York City, New York

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0640
Interview Date: October 30, 2009
Location: Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.
Interviewers: Jody A. Roberts and Kavita D. Hardy
No. of pages: 42
Minutes: 121

  Abstract of Interview

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.


1959 B.A., American Government, Dartmouth College
1965 Ph.D., American Government, Columbia University

  Professional Experience

Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine

1963 - 1965

Instructor in Government and Director of the Bureau for Research
in Municipal Government

Bureau for the Budget, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C.

1965 - 1967

Chief Examiner for Environmental and Consumer Protection

Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

1967 - 1970

Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs

Council on Environmental Quality, Executive Office of the President, Washington, D.C.

1970 - 1973

Senior Staff Member

Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.

1973 - 1976

Fellow and Assistant Director, Institutions and Public Decisions

The Conservation Foundation, Washington, D.C.

1976 - 1989

Executive Vice President

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

1989 - 1991

Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Evaluation

National Commission on the Environment, Washington, D.C.

1991 - 1992

Executive Director

Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.

1992 - 2000

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Risk Management

Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C.

1992 - present

Senior Fellow, Risk, Resources, and Environmental Management

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C.

2005 - present

Senior Advisor



Phi Beta Kappa


Elected Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Education and Early Career 1

Dilemma of being an activist or academic. Professor of public administration. Desire to have experience in government. Office of Management and Budget. Return to academia. Writes book on pollution. Consultant to Ash Council and creation of Environmental Protection Agency.

Council on Environmental Quality 9

Responsibilities at Council. Drafting a proposal for chemicals legislation. Goals of pre-market clearance and burden of proof on industry.

Redrafting the Toxic Substances Control Act 10

Debates within administration. Negotiations in Congress. Transformation of law. Lack of public interest. Goal of addressing “chemical of the month syndrome.” Enactment.

Career Post-Council on Environmental Quality 14

Resources for the Future. Conservation Foundation. Environmental Protection Agency. Return to Resources for the Future. Retirement. Project on Emerging Technologies.

Implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act 21

Substantial risk notifications. State of science. Risk assessment. Lack of data. Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA. Unreasonable risk. Testing rule. Legal constraints. Anti-regulatory environment in government.

Toxic Substances Control Act Reform 23

Lack of initiative. European chemicals policy. Role of state regulations. Burden of proof. Nanotechnology and new chemicals. Public participation. Confidential business information.

Index 34

  About the Interviewer

Jody A. Roberts

Jody A. Roberts is the Director of the Institute for Research at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He received his PhD and MS in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a BS in Chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.

Kavita D. Hardy

Kavita D. Hardy is a research assistant in the Environmental History and Policy Program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. She received a B.A. in Chemistry and in Economics from Swarthmore College.

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