US chemicals sector slams vote on toxic substances reform bill

25 July 2012 20:25  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US chemical sector officials on Wednesday expressed disappointment and concern over a Senate committee vote to advance a major chemicals management reform bill that is widely opposed by industry.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works voted 10-8 to approve S-847, the “Safe Chemicals Act”, which is designed to modernise the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principal federal law governing chemicals in commerce.

While the broad US chemicals industry, multiple environmental groups, members of Congress and other stakeholders all agree that TSCA needs a major overhaul, there remains wide disagreement on how to do it.

S-847, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey), has wide support among environmental groups and Democrats in Congress, but it is strongly opposed by the chemicals industry and most Republicans on the Hill.

Supporters see the Safe Chemicals Act as a long-overdue reform that strengthens the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its ability to regulate and if necessary deny use of new substances or order removal of existing chemicals if they pose a risk to human health or the environment.

But opponents charge that S-847 is a heavy-handed, even draconian approach to chemicals regulation, that it stands as a US version of the EU’s Reach programme for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, and that it would crush US innovation of new substances, processes and products.

The 10-8 committee vote on Wednesday was along strict party lines, with all 10 Democrats on the panel supporting the bill and the eight Republicans opposed.

Chemical sector officials and Republicans on the committee charged that the bill’s sponsor, Lautenberg, and committee chairwoman Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California) had advanced theSafe Chemicals Act simply to make a political point in advance of the US national elections in November.

Republicans on the committee also charged that Lautenberg and Boxer had violated an agreement reached earlier this year with Republicans on the panel to work together for a bipartisan bill that could win Republican support as well as that of Democrats.

“We are very disappointed that Senators Boxer and Lautenberg have chosen to move forward on a partisan mark-up of a bill that is inconsistent with an agreement between Senator Lautenberg and four Republican senators to engage in bipartisan negotiations,” said the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Bill Allmond, vice president for government and public relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that Wednesday’s party-line vote approving S-847 effectively brought an end to “what appeared to be a constructive bipartisan process to draft legislation on a clean slate”.

Allmond, whose trade group represents some 300 specialty and batch chemical manufacturers, said that Lautenberg had claimed to want a bipartisan bill, “but today’s mark-up says otherwise”.

He said that progress toward a bipartisan bill to reform TSCA “was being made by both sides toward a workable approach, only to now snatch defeat from the jaws of a bipartisan victory”.

The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) also expressed disappointment at collapse of the bipartisan TSCA reform effort, charging that committee leadership had not allowed the bipartisan working group an adequate opportunity to achieve results.

Lautenberg said his bill “is a major milestone in our effort to fix America’s broken system for regulating toxic chemicals”.

He said the measure gives the EPA the tools it needs to require health and safety testing of toxic chemicals and places the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe.

Under current law, the EPA can call for safety testing only after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous, Lautenberg said.

As a result, he said, the EPA has been able to require testing for only 200 of more than 80,000 chemicals registered in the US, and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the panel, complained that Boxer and Lautenberg pushed the partisan S-847 forward for a full committee vote with only a 24-hour notice and without getting adequate expert testimony on the bill.

“Unfortunately, a political decision was made to abandon this [bipartisan] process after just a few short weeks, and today we’re looking at a bill that is largely the same Safe Chemicals Act that Republicans have opposed for years,” Inhofe said.

Lautenberg has been putting his Safe Chemicals Act forward for years, but it has never moved much beyond committee level.

“Simply introducing a partisan bill year in and year out has not and will not lead us to a bipartisan solution that modernises TSCA,” Inhofe said.

“Unfortunately, this decision to conduct the mark-up today has effectively ended any hope of bipartisan TSCA modernisation this year,” he added.

By: Joe Kamalick
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