Senate Committee Adopts TSCA Reform Bill

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee recently approved legislation that would fundamentally overhaul the way the Environmental Protection Agency regulates commercial chemicals. Under the bill (S. 847), EPA would determine the safety of substances on the basis of data that chemical manufacturers would have to provide. The agency would restrict uses of chemicals that cannot be proven safe. The bill differs significantly from current law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was signed into law in 1976. Under TSCA, EPA has the burden of showing that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment before it can regulate the substance. “This vote is a major milestone in our effort to fix America’s broken system for regulating toxic chemicals,” says the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) “For too long, the chemical industry has deceived the public and the government about the safety of their products.” Before the committee members approved S. 847, they agreed in a voice vote to an amendment from Lautenberg that makes major changes to the bill that he introduced in April 2011. The changes stemmed from closed-door negotiating sessions among Democrats, Republicans, health and safety advocates, consumer product makers, and the chemical industry. The amended bill would establish a new system for confidential business information claims that companies make for chemical-related information they provide to EPA. Trade secrets and production data would always be eligible for protection from public disclosure, under S. 847. Identity of new chemicals could be protected for a specific period of time as determined by EPA and on the basis of market conditions. But health and safety information and general market information could never be claimed as confidential information. The committee voted to back the amended version of S. 847. Although Republican members voiced their support for revising TSCA, they voted against the bill, saying more time was needed to work out legislation. Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top-ranking Republican on the panel, pointed out that he and Lautenberg last year held a series of meetings with environmental and health advocates, chemical manufacturers, and consumer products makers. In recent weeks, he said. Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Mike D. Crapo (R-Idaho), and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) began meeting with Lautenberg on TSCA reform. But they said they hadn’t yet reached an agreement. The vote on S. 847, Inhofe said, “has effectively ended any hope of bipartisan TSCA modernisation this year.” Republicans reflected the views of the American Chemistry Council, a trade group. In a statement, ACC said it was disappointed with the “partisan markup of a bill that is inconsistent with the bipartisan negotiations that had just gotten underway.” Lautenberg noted that he has worked to revise TSCA for years, first introducing a reform bill in 2005. He said he invited response from Republicans and others “at every turn,” but got nothing until recently. Lautenberg sought the committee vote because time for the full Senate to vote on the bill before this year’s election season is quickly slipping away. “We hope Senate Republicans can find a way to join in this important work as this legislation moves to the Senate floor,” said Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of environmental and health advocates and businesses. Lautenberg indicated he would be open to amendments to his bill on the Senate floor. It’s unclear whether S. 847 would make it to the Senate floor for discussion and vote this year. It has a key political ally, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the second highest ranking democrat in the Senate who became a backer of the bill after an investigative series published recently by the Chicago Tribune alleging that flame retardants are toxic and ineffective. The measure would need to garner a few Republican votes to pass. And with Vitter, Crapo, and Alexander saying they want to come up with a bipartisan bill, their GOP colleagues may chose not to support S. 847. Vitter called the vote on Lautenberg’s bill “a quick distraction” that will not derail the newly started TSCA reform talks.

Chemical & Engineering News, 25 July 2012 ; ;