House Panel to Unveil TSCA Reform Bill With Goal of March Markup, Chairman Says

By Dean Scott

Feb. 6 --House Republicans are hoping to finish a draft bill to revamp federal chemical law by late February with an eye toward moving the measure through a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee in March, a subcommittee chairman told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 6.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy, said he plans to hold a hearing on the draft measure, also by the end of February, and will have the draft bill completed before then.

Shimkus said he hopes to have his subcommittee approve the bill by mid-March and put it before the full Energy Committee “maybe late spring or early summer” in hopes of getting the bill to the House floor after that.

Shimkus highlighted three key issues to be addressed in the bill: the extent to which it would preempt state regulations, addressing chemical industry fears that their confidential business information on chemicals could be disclosed and the degree to which the bill should prioritize reviews of new chemicals posing the greatest concerns.

Republican efforts to revamp the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act in the House are moving as Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is pushing for Democratic support for his TSCA reform proposal (S. 1009), which he co-authored in 2013 with the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Shimkus said his House version “will be shared with Democrats prior to our legislative hearing” in the coming weeks, but many Democrats are skeptical of Republican promises of inclusion in developing the bill.

No Current Role

“Well, they are not drafting the bill with us, and we haven’t seen what it is they are proposing,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Energy Committee Democrat, told Bloomberg BNA.

“Usually with bipartisan bills, you are actually working together on drafting a bill,” and Republicans have shown no willingness to seek Democrats’ input, Waxman said.

TSCA authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to collect data on new chemicals to evaluate and assess possible health and environmental risks, but the agency isn't required to review existing chemicals. Environmental groups and other supporters of a stronger law argue that there are more than 80,000 chemicals currently on the market, but few have been fully assessed for the risks they pose to health and the environment.

The Environment and Economy Subcommittee held its fifth and most recent hearing on TSCA on Feb. 4, focusing on sections that authorize EPA to require new testing or mandate that existing chemical industry data be submitted to the agency (see related story).

Waxman and other subcommittee members said the lack of toxicity data and other chemical information was a key weakness in the law revealed by a West Virginia chemical leak in January, which impacted the Elk River, a significant source of drinking water for the surrounding area.

Middle Ground Needed

Shimkus acknowledged that he and others working on TSCA revisions in the Republican-controlled House will have to find some middle ground in the months ahead, given that it would have to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“I’ve said this before: The law was passed when I graduated from high school and really--it’s not doing it’s job,” the chairman said of TSCA, which hasn't undergone significant revisions since it was signed by President Gerald Ford. “With some of these groups, I’m saying, if they get 75 percent of the loaf they ought to be happy--because that’s a lot better than no loaf,” Shimkus said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com