Economics driving bipartisan TSCA reform in Congress - counsel

04 March 2014 19:06 Source:ICIS News

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--There is more bipartisan support for modernisation of the principal US federal law regulating chemicals because members of Congress see that reform as a major opportunity to boost the economy, a top House of Representatives staffer said on Tuesday.

David McCarthy, counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also told an industry conference that the committee’s work on legislation modernising the nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) could be completed sooner than expected and a final House-Senate bill could be sent to President Barack Obama before the end of this year.

Speaking at the GlobalChem conference on industry regulatory matters, McCarthy disputed conventional wisdom that Congress was not likely to act this year on a complex TSCA reform bill because of the midterm election cycle.

In US election years, members of Congress typically are reluctant to vote on anything controversial for fear it might hurt their chances in an impending popular vote. The election-year theory also holds that within six months of an election, such as the midterm vote to be held in early November, members are too focused on campaigning to be bothered with legislating.

But McCarthy said that the potential economic impact of TSCA reform is helping to focus bipartisan support for the two reform bills that are now pending respectively in the House and Senate.

“I suggested to members of Congress, that if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who is deciding whether or where to locate a chemicals plant, to keep an existing plant or build a new one, you would have to consider three factors,” McCarthy said.

One factor, he said, is the availability of feedstock, second is the availability of a competent workforce and, third, access to the market.

He noted that with the newly abundant supplies of domestic US natural gas, the nation’s chemicals industry feedstock situation is better than in decades and could well improve further.

“On the availability of workforce, the US always has the best workforce, and at the moment there are a lot of them available,” he said.

“Third is market access - which is why we are doing TSCA reform,” he said.

“There may be a lot of countries that can offer two out of three of those factors,” McCarthy said, “but not many can offer all three, which is why we see a lot of interest among members of Congress this year” in getting a TSCA modernisation bill done and out the door to the White House.

Reforming and modernising TSCA also would help US export trade, he argued.

“Our objectives in reforming TSCA are, first, to instil confidence in the US chemicals industry and the marketplace with a rational and safe examination of chemicals in commerce,” he said.

“The term ‘Made in America’ should be an assurance to the public that a chemical in the US market is safe for its intended purpose,” he said, “and we think that ‘Made in America’ for chemicals also can become the gold standard for the world.”

He said that the goal of TSCA reform is not zero risk, simply because that can never be achieved.

“There will always be risk. We’re not trying to go to zero risk,” McCarthy said.  “We can’t get to zero risk with chemicals any more than you can get to zero risk in aviation. If you want zero risk in aviation, no planes would ever take off.”

Another primary goal in the committee’s TSCA reform effort, he said, is to accommodate the free flow of interstate commerce.

McCarthy noted that his committee was established in 1794 precisely for that cause, to make “rules of the road” for interstate commerce, “not to impede commerce but to make it work”.

“This is the spirit in which we want to reform TSCA,” he said.

He said that in the critical area of federal pre-emption of state and local laws in modernising TSCA, “we are not indifferent to the states having a role in protecting the environment”.

“In the pre-emption portion of this bill I think we have struck a balance,” McCarthy said.

“We do preserve state chemical laws, but only up to the point where EPA [the Environmental Protection Agency] has made a decision on a chemical”, he said.

He emphasised that final congressional action on a TSCA reform bill is entirely possible this year, despite the election year pressures.

“For one thing, we have not seen this kind of growth in bipartisan support on this in a long time, and the more growth there is in that support, the more likely is passage of the bill,” he said.

“I’ve worked on legislation that got wrapped up just 48 hours before the president signed it,” he said, suggesting that resolution on a comprehensive bill to modernise TSCA could come together more quickly than many might suppose.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

Co-sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA), the annual GlobalChem regulatory conference runs through Wednesday.

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

By Joe Kamalick