New US Senate effort on TSCA could kill bipartisan bill

22 July 2013 18:53  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--An effort in the US Senate to draft a completely new bill to modernise the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) could mean the end of an existing and widely accepted bipartisan measure, a top chemicals sector official said on Monday.

Jim Cooper, vice president for petrochemicals at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), said that reported plans by Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California) to scrap the recently announced bipartisan TSCA reform bill and start over could doom the effort to get a modernised chemicals controls bill through Congress.

In mid-May, eight Senate Republicans and eight Democrats announced a compromise TSCA modernisation bill called the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act” (CSIA) S-1009, which was put together chiefly by Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana and the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey.

Also known as the Lautenberg-Vitter bill, the measure was widely welcomed by many in the US chemicals industry and among environmentalists.

On introducing the bill, Lautenberg and Vitter said CSIA would for the first time ensure that all chemicals are screened for safety “while also creating an environment where manufacturers can continue to innovate, grow and create jobs”. Lautenberg died just weeks after the bill was introduced.

Among many other elements, CSIA would pre-empt any state laws that conflict with the federal measure, and it is that feature in particular that has earned the ire of Senator Boxer.

Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was reported by the San Francisco Chronicle to be adamantly opposed to the Lautenberg-Vitter bill, charging that it would usurp California’s own rules on chemicals in commerce.

Boxer and California state environmental officials are concerned, said the Chronicle, that CSIA would overturn state laws protecting drinking water, controlling ozone and greenhouse gases and the state’s ability to ban toxic substances.

The Chronicle reported that Boxer, through an aide, said she would call a hearing to examine TSCA reform that would include earlier bills that Boxer has sponsored on the matter.

Boxer intends a major overhaul of the Lautenberg-Vitter bill that would amount to starting over, the Chronicle said.

That, said Cooper, likely would undermine carefully wrought compromises in the Lautenberg-Vitter bill that reflect a broad spectrum of stakeholders.

“If the Lautenberg-Vitter bill changes from its current form too much,” said Cooper, “it will suffer the same fate as Boxer’s earlier bills, which collapsed under their own weight.”

Cooper characterised Boxer’s own earlier TSCA reform efforts as so dramatically re-creating TSCA from scratch that “they never got any traction in Congress”.

He said that AFPM has learned that Boxer is to hold an extended hearing with as many as five different panels with as many as 20 witnesses testifying.

“We expect that hearing will not be the most positive reflection of the current state of play,” he said.

Cooper noted that whether or not Boxer succeeds in drafting a ground-up revision of TSCA to her own liking, as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee she has the ability to kill the Lautenberg-Vitter bill simply by refusing to bring it up before that committee.

“If that happens, this bill [Lautenberg-Vitter] is then pretty much dead,” Cooper said.

And, unless the Senate passes a TSCA modernisation bill, he said, the House is not likely to take up the issue on its own.

If the CSIA measure ends up dead in the water for this year, he said, “who knows when a TSCA measure could be taken up again?”

“It would be a shame if this opportunity went away,” he added.

By: Joe Kamalick
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