22 May 2013 18:41 [Source: ICIS news]
WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A bipartisan group of US senators on Wednesday introduced what they termed a ground-breaking agreement to modernise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principal federal law governing chemicals in commerce.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey) and Senator David Vitter (Republican-Louisiana) said that the legislation they have crafted - along with input from the chemicals industry, environmentalists and other stakeholders - would “significantly update and improve TSCA”.
The bill, titled the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), would for the first time ensure that all chemicals are screened for safety for the public and the environment “while also creating an environment where manufacturers can continue to innovate, grow and create jobs”, the two senators said in a joint statement.
Lautenberg, a long-time member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Vitter, the ranking Republican on that panel, were joined by seven other Democrats and seven Republicans in sponsoring the CSIA.
US chemical sector officials have long held that any effort to modernise the 37-year-old TSCA would have to have strong bipartisan support if it were to have any chance of getting approved by both the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-majority House.
TSCA, enacted in 1976 and not substantially altered since then, has long been criticised by both environmentalists and the chemicals sector as being inadequate to its intended task of ensuring the safety of chemicals in commerce and in restoring public and consumer confidence in that safety.
Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said that the bipartisan CSIA “will put safety first, while also promoting innovation, economic growth and job creation”.
Dooley was joined in the statement by Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), saying that the Lautenberg-Vitter bill “gives the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] vital new tools to identify chemicals of both high and low concern and to reduce exposure to those that pose risks”.
Lautenberg has previously introduced his own TSCA reform bill in this Congress and in several earlier congressional sessions, but his earlier legislation has been routinely denounced by chemicals leaders and multiple other manufacturing interests.
The Lautenberg-Vitter bill appears to present the first real possibility to get comprehensive modernisation of TSCA through Congress.
The CSIA bill is said to differ substantially from the existing TSCA because it will require safety evaluations of all chemicals active in commerce; it will prioritise chemicals based on risks posed to human health or the environment; and it would require safety screening for new chemicals entering commerce.
In addition, CSIA would give EPA authority to impose restrictions on the use of chemicals found to pose risks, ranging from increased labelling requirements to mandatory phase-out or banning of substances found to be unsafe.
EPA also would have authority to bar new chemical substances from entering commerce if they are demonstrated to be unsafe.
Although it has solid bipartisan support among its cosponsors, the Lautenberg-Vitter bill is not guaranteed easy passage in either the Senate or House. Multiple committees in both chambers have jurisdiction over TSCA and are expected to weigh in with amendments, enhancements or exclusions.
It was not immediately apparent whether a companion bill to CSIA will be introduced in the House. That suggests that the Senate will complete its work on the Lautenberg-Vitter bill and then send it over to the House.
Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy
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