23 May 2013 17:23 [Source: ICIS news]
By Joe Kamalick
WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US chemicals industry this week welcomed a legislative package designed to modernise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but some were resisting joyful judgement until the gift-wrap is off and the contents are clear.
A bipartisan group of US senators introduced what was termed a ground-breaking agreement to modernise 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 legislation has been routinely denounced by chemicals leaders and multiple other manufacturing interests.
The Lautenberg-Vitter bill appears to present the first real opportunity to get comprehensive modernisation of TSCA through Congress.
Principal elements of CSIA provide that:
All active chemicals in commerce must be evaluated for safety and labelled as either “high” or “low” priority based on potential risk to human health and the environment;
If a chemical is found to be unsafe, EPA has authority to impose restrictions, ranging from broader labelling requirements to phase-out or outright ban of a chemical;
EPA will have to transparently assess risk, determine safety, and apply any needed measures to manage risks;
New chemicals entering the market must be screened for safety and EPA is given the authority to prohibit unsafe chemicals from entering the market;
EPA must secure necessary health and safety information from chemical manufacturers, but EPA is to rely on existing information if possible to avoid duplicative testing;
There will be clear paths to getting new chemical products on the market and government protection for industry trade secrets and intellectual property;
EPA must pay special attention to risks posed to vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant women, when evaluating the safety of a chemical; and
State and local governments will have opportunity to provide input on prioritization and safety assessment processes, and the bill could allow state regulations or laws to remain in effect if warranted, but otherwise CSIA would pre-empt state rules.
Altogether, said ACC’s Dooley, the Lautenberg-Vitter bill “takes a balanced, comprehensive approach to updating the law, which will give consumers more confidence in the safety of chemicals, while at the same time encouraging innovation, economic growth and job creation by American manufacturers”.
“We now have an historic legislative opportunity that can be embraced by both sides of the aisle,” Dooley added, saying that was “an accomplishment all too rare in Washington today.”
Dooley, a seven-term veteran of the House, said that modernisation of TSCA is especially critical now when the US chemicals industry is on the cusp of unexpected expansion and growth due to newly abundant shale gas supplies that also are driving a broader US manufacturing revival.
“At a time when the chemical industry is driving a national manufacturing renaissance,” he said, “a sensible, strong and workable bipartisan solution to modernise TSCA as laid out in the CSIA is more important than ever, not only for our industry but for the countless others that rely on chemical products.”
But the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) was not ready to give CSIA an unchecked endorsement.
AFPM president Charles Drevna commended the efforts made by Lautenberg, Vitter and their staffs to find a bipartisan path to TSCA reform, but he was not ready to throw in with the senators just yet.
“We are reviewing the details of the legislation,” Drevna said, “and look forward to working with the bipartisan group to ensure that the modernised TSCA is tiered, targeted and risk-based.”
The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) also was muted in its response.
Bill Allmond, SOCMA vice president for government relations, said that “on its surface, the bill appears favourable to the concerns of specialty chemical manufacturers”.
Of longstanding and particular concern to SOCMA members is the need to secure confidentiality for critical business information (CBI) in TSCA reform legislation.
On that score, said Allmond, “there appears to be bipartisan support now for SOCMA’s position that companies should be allowed to use descriptive generic chemical names in lieu of specific ones, and a chemical’s uses also would be afforded protection”.
Bill Carteaux, president of the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), said that the Lautenberg-Vitter bill “is a true milestone”.
He said the bill “encompasses a broad spectrum of stakeholder viewpoints, and I am hopeful that its introduction will usher in a new era of cooperation in the collective pursuit of TSCA modernisation”.
Whether CSIA marks the dawn of a new era of cooperation remains to be seen.
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 that 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.
In the process, the 127-page bill could get pummeled, parsed and pulled to the extent that its original sponsors won’t recognise it.
($1 = €0.78)
Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy
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