US chemical firms, other producers slam House reform bill

23 July 2010 18:45  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US chemical sector officials and general manufacturing leaders on Friday warned that a new chemicals control bill introduced in the House of Representatives would smother innovation and shift production and jobs overseas.

Representatives Henry Waxman (Democrat-California) and Bobby Rush (Democrat-Illinois) introduced their 166-page “Toxic Chemicals Safety Act” (HR-5820) late on Thursday, saying it would effectively modernise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has governed chemicals in US commerce for 34 years.

Rush said the bill “both protects consumers while respecting the right of private industry to innovate while protecting businesses’ confidentiality, trade secrets and intellectual property rights”.

Waxman said the measure “will protect public health and the environment while promoting American jobs and innovation”.

However, chemical and general manufacturing officials warned that the Waxman-Rush bill, like a companion measure introduced in the US Senate in April, would in fact stifle chemical innovation, compromise trade secrets, force still more US manufacturing and related jobs overseas and create a patchwork of multiple federal and state regulations.

According to Waxman and Rush, their bill would ensure that all existing and new chemical substances be reviewed for consumer safety and restricted or banned where necessary.

It would require chemical producers to develop and provide to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) essential substance and safety data, and require that non-confidential substance information be shared among federal regulators, state officials and industry workers.

The bill also would create incentives to promote investments in green chemistry and create workforce training programmes in green chemistry development.

But the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) warned on Friday that the Waxman-Rush bill “would significantly hamper innovation and impose stringent regulator burdens” on chemical producers.

SOCMA president Lawrence Sloan said his trade group’s specialty and batch chemical producers, many of them small- and medium-sized firms, would be particularly hard hit.

“The sheer scope and the lack of definitions in the bill raise major concerns on such issues as the safety standard,” Sloan said.  “Under the bill, safety determinations would be on a per-use basis, but the term ‘use’ is largely undefined.”

He cautioned that the bill as drafted could subject industrial chemicals used in processing to safety criteria based on unlikely consumer exposure.

“Basing safety determinations on uses for industrial chemicals is unnecessary and would discourage the development of new chemicals and new uses, thereby dramatically impacting innovation,” Sloan said.

He also raised alarm about the information disclosure provisions of the bill, saying that the measure could allow access by domestic and foreign competitors to proprietary process and product details.

Lastly, Sloan said the bill’s allowance for state-level regulation of chemicals in commerce undermines the goal of a single federal standard and compliance rules.

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) also warned that the Waxman-Rush bill would smother innovation across the broad US production sector.

The bill “dramatically expands the scope of the EPA’s authority over every sector of our nation’s economy, sets unrealistic standards and timeframes and puts unnecessary burdens on manufacturers with new and inconsistent statutory requirements,” said NAM vice president Keith McCoy.

NAM’s 14,000 member companies include many chemical and plastics manufacturers or processors.

McCoy, NAM’s leader on energy and resources issues, warned that “If enacted, this bill will create even more uncertainty for manufacturers and will hurt their ability to create jobs and grow our economy at a critical time in our nation”.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said the Waxman-Rush proposal “is a step toward modernisation of TSCA”, but the council also expressed concern that in seeking to ensure broad consumer protection against chemical exposure, the bill could fail to preserve America’s position as a leading innovator and puts US jobs at risk.

“The federal chemical regulatory system must ensure public safety, protect the ability of American business to innovate, and preserve American jobs,” said council president Cal Dooley, adding: “This bill will need more work to get us there.”

The first hearing on the Waxman-Rush TSCA reform bill will be held next Thursday, 29 July, before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which Waxman chairs.

Final work on the House and Senate bills to reform and modernise TSCA is not expected until late next year.

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