Charles F. Lettow

Born: February 10, 1941 | Iowa Falls, IA, US
Died: Thursday, November 29, 2018

Charles F. Lettow studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate.  He held one job in the chemical industry before serving in the US Army; after his military service he moved into the field of law. After clerkships with the Hon. Benjamin C. Duniway and the Hon. Warren E. Burger, he was invited to work for the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.  There he was involved in the creation of US Environmental Protection Agency and several environmental laws, including the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Lettow and J. Clarence Davies used the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as their primary model for writing a toxics law that would include both a premarket review and imminent hazard provision. Lettow discusses the debates surrounding the issues of preemption, citizen suits, judicial review, penalties, administrative searches, and confidentiality.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0656
No. of pages: 32
Minutes: 70

Interview Sessions

Jody A. Roberts and Kavita D. Hardy
23 April 2010
US Federal Court of Claims, Washington, DC

Abstract of Interview

Charles F. Lettow grew up as a “Sputnik kid,” choosing to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate.  He held one job in the chemical industry before serving in the U.S. Army; after his military service he moved into the field of law.  He undertook two clerkships, one with the Hon. Benjamin C. Duniway and one with the Hon. Warren E. Burger, and he was then invited to work for the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.  There he was involved in the creation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and several environmental laws, including the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  He and J. Clarence Davies used the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as their primary model for writing a toxics law that would include both a premarket review and imminent hazard provision.  According to Lettow, the law was intentionally not prescriptive in order to give the EPA the flexibility to adapt to innovations, changing uses of materials, and new knowledge about materials.  Because of the multifunctional nature of chemicals, they opted for a use restriction provision rather than an FDA-style approval process. 

At the end of the interview Lettow discusses his belief that the law should have been workable with a creative bureaucracy.  He also talks about the debates surrounding the issues of preemption, citizen suits, judicial review, penalties, administrative searches, and confidentiality.  While the law underwent changes during the Congressional debates, Lettow believes it was not substantially different from his and Davies’s draft. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1962 Iowa State University BS Chemical Engineering
1968 Stanford University LLB
2001 Brown University AM History

Professional Experience

Procter & Gamble Company

1962 to 1963
Engineer, Soap Products Research Department

US Army

1963 to 1965
Second Lieutenant, First Lieutenant, 3rd Infantry Division, Germany

US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

1968 to 1969
Law Clerk to Benjamin Duniway

US Supreme Court

1969 to 1970
Law Clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

Council on Environmental Quality, Executive Office of the President

1970 to 1973
Counsel

Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, LLP

1973 to 1976
Associate
1976 to 2003
Partner

US Federal Court of Claims

2003 to 2010
Judge

Table of Contents

Early Career
1

Chemical engineering. Law school. Federal-state relations. Law clerkships. President’s Council on Environmental Quality. Creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Drafting the Toxic Substances Control Act
5

Legal models. Premarmketing review. Imminent hazard provision, Not prescriptive.

Implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act
9

Utility of ambiguity. Need for conceptual vision. Other legislative models. Use restrictions.

Interagency Negotiations
18

Office of Management and Budget approval. Preemption. Citizen suits. Judicial review. Penalties. Confidentiality. Responsibility for testing. Not impeding technological innovation.

Index
31

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.