US EPA chief promises certainty in regulatory reform

06 October 2009 22:19  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The top US environmental regulator on Tuesday promised to reform the nation’s chemicals control law to give consumers protection and reassurance but also provide manufacturers with the certainty needed for investment.

Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told a chemicals management conference that the existing US chemicals control programme - the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 - “is an inadequate tool for providing the protection against chemical risks that the public rightfully expects”.

The agency announced last week a set of core principles that Jackson said should guide Congress, the administration and various stakeholders in the effort to modernise the 33-year-old regulatory structure.

Jackson noted that chemicals and plastics are “ubiquitous in our economy and products, as well as in our environment and our bodies”.

She said that TSCA has proven inadequate to effective and safe management of chemicals in commerce, and that as long as the federal government delays taking reform action the situation will worsen, both for consumers and business.

“We know far too little about new chemicals coming into the market,” she said.  “And as states and other countries take action, manufacturers have far too little certainty on how they will be regulated”.

The US chemicals sector has generally welcomed the agency’s plans to reform TSCA, with many in industry anxious to maintain the US risk-based approach to chemicals controls rather than the precautionary restrictions that underlie the EU’s controversial programme for the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals (REACH).

In reviewing the reform principles announced last week, Jackson emphasised that “we need to review all chemicals against safety standards that are based solely on considerations of risk, and we must set these standards at levels that are protective of human health and the environment”.

She also insisted that regulatory reform must ensure that “in all cases, EPA and chemical producers must act on priority chemicals in a timely manner, with firm deadlines to maintain accountability”.

“This will not only assure prompt protection of health and the environment but provide business with the certainty that it needs for planning and investment,” she said.

She also urged an expansion of EPA staff in order to implement a reformed chemicals control programme, and she called on industry to contribute “its fair share of the costs of implementing new requirements”.

US chemical industry officials have expressed willingness to help fund the agency’s expanded role under a reformed controls programme.

In separate remarks at the conference, American Chemistry Council (ACC) president Cal Dooley welcomed Jackson’s approach to TSCA reform, saying that industry’s “highest priority is public health and safety, and Americans deserve to have confidence that the products they buy are safe for the uses for which they were designed”.

Dooley also welcomed the EPA’s bid for a comprehensive improvement of the chemicals control law. “Without a comprehensive approach, the American people will be left with minor adjustments to the current federal regime and a patchwork of state and federal laws that will not enable a robust chemical management system,” he said.

There are plans in the US Congress to take up reform of TSCA in what remains of this legislative year, but no real progress on a comprehensive replacement statute is expected before late next year.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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