Industry, enviros urge quick action on TSCA reform bill

13 November 2013 17:58  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Industry and environmental leaders on Wednesday urged quick congressional action on a bipartisan bill to modernise US chemicals regulations, noting that all sides agree that existing rules are inadequate.

In a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, American Chemistry Council (ACC) president Cal Dooley said that the bipartisan reform bill introduced in the US Senate “has kick-started a sincere and serious effort to reform chemical regulation”.

Dooley was referring to S-1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), co-authored by Senator David Vitter (Republican-Louisiana) and the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (Democrat-New Jersey), a long-time advocate of chemicals management reform.

The Vitter-Lautenberg bill would replace the existing Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the 37-year-old statute that all stakeholders agree needs modernisation and improvements.

Dooley, a former congressman, told the House panel that CSIA is a “delicately crafted compromise [that] will enhance public safety while preserving the ability of American manufacturers to develop new, life-changing innovations”.

He said that if passed, S-1009 also would enable US chemical manufactures to “compete in the global marketplace and create new opportunities in communities across the country”.

“This much-needed balance has eluded us in past reform proposals,” Dooley said.

Over the last several years multiple legislative efforts - many led by Lautenberg - to reform TSCA have died in Congress because most were seen as too extreme to garner broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Dooley said that CSIA still contains elements that environmentalists and other stakeholders find lacking, but he said that “We believe these concerns are manageable”.

However, he added, “it’s important to realise that the CSIA is already the product of extensive negotiation and compromise”, warning that excessive changes to the bill could kill its chance of full congressional approval.

“We support efforts to find common ground” in making changes to S-1009, Dooley said, “but any effort to continually move the goal posts will undermine the trust that has been established thus far and could prevent progress for years to come.”

Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), also had praise for the Vitter-Lautenberg bill, saying it constitutes “the first viable path toward actually passing TSCA reform legislation”.

He said that S-1009 “contains many elements of effective reform”.  However, he added, the bill “needs significant changes if it is actually to deliver the promised reforms”.

Among other issues, Denison said, CSIA must provide better safeguards for vulnerable populations exposed to multiple chemical sources.  He also said that CSIA’s “sweeping pre-emption of state authority needs to be significantly narrowed”.

In addition, Denison argued that the bill’s “undue limits” on government challenges to producer claims of confidential business information (CBI) “must be remedied”.  Strong protection of CBI is a critical issue for chemicals manufacturers.

But Denison shared Dooley’s view that “these problems, while serious, are fixable” and can be effected without undermining “bipartisan support critical to passage of the legislation”.

“Congress must seize this opportunity to … overhaul an ineffective and obsolete law that everyone agrees needs reform,” Denison said.

The bill is likely to face multiple amendments in the House as it goes forward.

The Vitter-Lautenberg bill has 25 Republican and Democrat cosponsors and is still pending before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but no hearings on the measure have been scheduled there. 

Committee chairwoman Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat-California) is said to want to scrap S-1009 and start over.

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

By: Joe Kamalick
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