Lautenberg revives his ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ amid industry groans

10 April 2013 23:36  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) on Wednesday reintroduced his “Safe Chemicals Act”, saying the often-repeated bill is needed to replace what he termed a broken federal law for regulating chemicals in commerce.

Lautenberg said that if passed, his bill – which failed to gain much traction in earlier efforts in the Senate – would “ensure that all chemicals are screened for safety and that unsafe uses of chemicals are banned”.

His bill is meant to reform or replace the 37-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which environmentalists and chemicals manufacturers agree needs to be updated.

But the US chemicals sector and a broad array of other industries have repeatedly opposed Lautenberg’s TSCA reform plan, arguing that his bill would simply be a US version of the EU’s programme for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH).

A US REACH-like programme would choke off the US chemical industry’s lead in innovation and new product development, chemical sector officials have argued.

Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), urged Lautenberg “to rethink his approach to TSCA reform, instead of reintroducing the same partisan bill introduced last year, which never progressed because it was too complex and unworkable”.

Drevna said that legislation to successfully modernise TSCA “should create a workable programme that gives consumers confidence that chemicals are being used safely for their intended uses, while allowing industry to remain innovative, globally competitive and continue to offer the products that consumers have come to rely on in their daily lives”.

Many observers of the long-running effort to modernise TSCA doubt that a comprehensive rewrite of the complex statute can be achieved when Congress is so sharply divided between the Republican-majority House and the Democrat-majority Senate.

Bill Allmond, vice president for government and public relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), said that TSCA reform is needed to restore public confidence in products that contain chemicals, but he wondered whether a full rewrite of TSCA is now possible.

“We need to identify those areas of TSCA reform where there is some consensus to increase the prospect that there will be support from Democrats and Republicans alike,” Allmond said.

“Rather than waiting for a silver bullet to fix everything, let’s find areas both sides can agree on and move them forward through bipartisan cooperation,” he added.

American Chemistry Council (ACC) president Cal Dooley praised Lautenberg for his “continued commitment to this important issue” but indicated that he had preferences for a developing alternative bill.

“We are greatly encouraged by efforts in the Senate led by Senator David Vitter [Republican-Louisiana] to develop a new proposal that will improve safety and promote public confidence in our nation’s chemicals management system,” Dooley said, “while also enabling US industries to innovate and compete in the global economy.”

The as yet unseen Vitter bill to reform TSCA also drew support from the American Alliance for Innovation (AAI), a coalition of some 70 trade groups concerned about the potential for a REACH-like reform of TSCA.

AAI said that it too was encouraged “that recent efforts by Senator Vitter may offer an alternative approach for reform”.

In addition to the ACC, AFPM, SOCMA and other process industry trade groups, the AAI includes automotive, forestry, metals, electronics, mining, marine, retail sales and trucking industries, among others.

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Joe Kamalick
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