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U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Khanna Calls Biden EPA, FAA Refusal to Join Hearing on Lead in Children's Blood 'Unconscionable'

"I would expect this of the previous administration, but not this one."

Jessica Corbett

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna on Monday called out the Biden administration for not participating in an upcoming congressional hearing about leaded aviation fuel harming human health and the environment.

"Many airplanes continue to utilize leaded fuel, putting the health and safety of Americans—especially children—at risk."

Khanna (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's Subcommittee on Environment, plans to hold the hearing on how the fuel "is poisoning America's children" on Thursday at 2:00 pm ET.

Along with announcing the event, Khanna sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan and acting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Billy Nolen expressing his frustration that neither agency will be represented.

Khanna says in the letter that the subcommittee was recently told that the heads of the EPA and FAA were unavailable for the hearing, "so we offered to let the deputy administrators or other senior officials testify as a compromise. This option was rejected."

"To try and further accommodate you, we offered to change the scope of the hearing so that both your agencies would be comfortable testifying," the letter continues. "Unfortunately, both your agencies are flatly refusing to cooperate in any way with this hearing that is going forward next Thursday."

While the EPA did not respond to a request for comment, the FAA said in a statement that the agency "has told the committee it is more than willing to testify, but acting Administrator Nolen is unavailable due to a long-standing and full-day commitment on July 28 at the EAA AirVenture, the country's largest general aviation gathering."

"In fact, there he will speak about the agency's efforts to move safely to unleaded avgas," the statement added. "As the FAA has reiterated multiple times to congressional staff, the FAA remains committed to finding a date that works for everyone's schedules."

The FAA also said that "where a child lives, the color of their skin, or their economic status should not determine the quality of air they breathe. We share the committee's goal to create a lead-free future, and this effort has the commitment of the agency's top leaders."

The subcommittee's preview of the hearing highlights that airports are often located in low-income areas and communities of color, describes lead exposure from aviation fuel as "an ongoing environmental justice crisis," and says that this week's discussion will address "the urgency of permanently phasing out the dangerous substance."

"Lead is highly toxic and a probable carcinogen, causing health effects such as brain damage, learning disabilities, reduced fertility, nerve damage, and death," the panel noted. "Despite the dangers associated with it, many airplanes continue to utilize leaded fuel, putting the health and safety of Americans—especially children—at risk."

The subcommittee also charged that the EPA and FAA "have failed for many years to take meaningful action to curb the use" of leaded fuel while the aviation and fossil fuel industries have lobbied to delay efforts to phase it out.

The hybrid hearing, which will be livestreamed on YouTube and the panel's website, is set to include testimony from Marciela Lechuga, a resident Reid-Hillview Airport buffer zone in San Jose, California; Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez; and Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at Canada's Simon Fraser University.

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