Charles L. Elkins

Born: April 14, 1940 | New York, NY, US

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. Elkins became the director of the Office of Toxic Substances in 1986.  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. 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.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0643
No. of pages: 30
Minutes: 92

Interview Sessions

Jody A. Roberts and Kavita D. Hardy
9 April 2010
Washington, DC

Abstract of Interview

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.     

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1962 Yale University BA Philosophy
1967 Yale Law School JD

Professional Experience

US Office of Management and Budget

1967 to 1971
Budget Examiner for Environmental Programs

US Environmental Protection Agency

1971 to 1972
Special Assistant to the Administrator
1972 to 1973
Principal Deputy to the Assistant Administrator, Office of Categorical Programs
1973 to 1974
Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Categorical Programs
1974 to 1975
Director of Program and Management Operations, Office of Water and Hazardous Materials
1975 to 1981
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Noise Control Programs, Office of Air, Noise, and Radiation
1982 to 1983
Director, Office of Policy and Evaluation, Office of Air and Radiation
1983
Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation
1983 to 1985
Director, Office of Program Development, Office of Air and Radiation
1985 to 1986
Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation
1986 to 1990
Director, Office of Toxic Substances
1990 to 1994
Associate General Counsel

Jellinek, Schwartz, and Connolly, Inc.

1995 to 1999
Vice President

Chuck Elkins & Associates

1999 to 2011
President

Honors

Year(s) Award
1972

Gold Medal for Exceptional Service, US Environmental Protection Agency

Table of Contents

Early EPA and Early Career
1

OMB budget examiner. Creation of EPA. Creation of the Office of Toxic Substances. Noise Abatement Control Program. Office of Categorical Programs and Office of Media Programs. 

Implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act
9

Managerial challenges. Lack of mandate. Congressional hearings. New chemicals program. Existing chemicals program. Asbestos. Testing program. 

TSCA Stakeholders
19

Building a constituency. Working with industry. Interagency cooperation. Voluntary regulation. Role of Congressional oversight. 

Conclusion
26

Prospects for Reform. TRI. 

Index
29

About the Interviewer

Jody A. Roberts

Jody A. Roberts is the Director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute. 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 was a research assistant in the Environmental History and Policy Program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. She received a BA in chemistry and in economics from Swarthmore College.