US TSCA reform possible this year – at least parts of it

26 February 2013 17:58  [Source: ICIS news]

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland (ICIS)--Long-sought modernisation of the US Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) could be accomplished this year or next, top industry officials said on Tuesday, but piecemeal changes to the aging statute also are possible.

The 37-year-old TSCA is the principal US statute for the control of chemicals in commerce, but the law has not had any significant changes since it was enacted in 1976 and all sides agree it is badly in need of modernisation.

A new TSCA reform bill soon will be introduced in Congress by Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, according to Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual GlobalChem international regulatory conference, Dooley said that Vitter and his staff “have been consulting with a broad range of stakeholders – small companies and large, people throughout the value chain”.

He said he expects that “at the appropriate time, they will reach out to constituencies in the [non-government organisation (NGO)] community as well”.  NGOs include environmental, consumer and other groups that may have an interest in how TSCA is reshaped.

“I know that Vitter is fully committed to reaching out to his Democrat colleagues and encouraging their support for the legislation,” Dooley added, noting that without at least some bipartisan support for a TSCA modernisation bill, there was little chance the measure could clear Congress.

Dooley and Larry Sloan, president of the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), agreed that with Congress sharply divided – Democrats  control the Senate and Republicans control the House – getting any TSCA reform bill passed will be a major challenge.

“But we are fully committed to putting the resources and effort necessary to get TSCA modernised in this congressional cycle,” Dooley said.  The current 113th Congress just began its work in January and will continue until December 2014.

Dooley, who earlier served seven terms in the House representing a California district, said that “We do acknowledge that this is a tough political environment, and a lot depends on how Congress responds, what other pieces of legislation it will consider, things that are out of our control”.

Both Dooley and Sloan appeared ready, however, to take a piecemeal approach to getting needed changes in TSCA, especially if a full, comprehensive bill to reform the statute does not appear possible in the next two years.

“There could be a tailored approach to TSCA that could work very well,” Sloan said.  “Rather than one silver bullet to change the entire law, there are a few issues that we can agree on and make some pragmatic reforms happen.”

Among those issues, he said, would be an amendment to the existing TSCA to provide greater protection for regulated companies’ confidential business information (CBI). 

Sloan and others in the US chemicals sector worry that federal environmental regulators are increasingly seeking public disclosure of CBI, steps that they fear would give away trade and technology secrets to competitors, foreign and domestic.

“The risk and safety standards in TSCA need to be modernised,” Sloan said.  “The concept of zero risk for TSCA reform just doesn’t make sense, so we need some sort of mitigation in the safety standards.”

Sloan said he also was concerned about blacklisting and banning of specific chemicals without adequate consideration of the scientific basis, risk and exposure measures.  In addition, he said he would like to see a federal pre-emption clause added to the existing TSCA in order to stem the tide of state-level chemical regulations.

Dooley agreed that “this isn’t just a legislative reform route”.

“Our industry is fully committed to working with [the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] to develop programmes under their existing TSCA authority that can also contribute to the objectives for TSCA reform that we’ve laid out,” he said.  The EPA has principal enforcement authority under TSCA.

“We will continue to work with EPA on those initiatives over which EPA has authority under the existing TSCA,” Dooley added, citing greater protections for CBI as an example.    

Cosponsored by ACC and SOCMA, the annual GlobalChem regulatory conference runs through Wednesday of this week.

By: Joe Kamalick
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