Udall Sees Opening for TSCA Before August Recess

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By Anthony Adragna

July 23 — Legislation overhauling the nation's chemical statute is “ready to go” and could still secure coveted time on the Senate floor before the chamber breaks for its August recess, the bill's sponsor told Bloomberg BNA.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) acknowledged the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697) faces competition for floor time with a cybersecurity measure but said the bipartisan support from 52 co-sponsors across the political spectrum meant it was “primed” for chamber consideration.

“The fact is this is ready to go right now,” Udall said in a July 22 interview. “I’m not sure anything else is” immediately after the Senate completes its work on a surface transportation authorization bill (H.R. 22).

S. 697, introduced by Udall and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), would update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which governs industrial and other commercial uses of chemicals in the U.S. Supporters of the bill include Dupont; 3M; the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; American Chemistry Council; BASF Corp.; Consumer Electronics Association; Dow Chemical Co. and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others.

That optimism from Udall comes shortly after Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told Bloomberg BNA it “shouldn't take very long” for the chamber to consider TSCA and said there was time before the August recess. 

An aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg BNA July 23 the bill was “something the Senate could turn to” after the highway bill but said no decision had been made.

Boxer Role Key 

Key to the measure's chances may be how many amendments Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), an opponent of S. 697, insists on during floor debate. Udall said it was clear Boxer was “going to play a role in this” but said he hoped she would be “constructive” in offering amendments.

Udall said it would not be a death blow for the bill if it didn't get a vote before the Senate is expected to leave for recess on Aug. 8, but said he and Vitter were pushing hard for a vote before then.

“I think anytime between now and the end of the year is fine,” Udall said. “But we are focusing all of our efforts right now on between now and Aug. 8.”

Boxer has threatened to offer “hundreds” of amendments if the Senate refuses to use narrower House-passed TSCA reform (H.R. 2576) as the starting point for debate. Udall said a majority of senators favored moving forward with the Senate version and said both chambers of Congress were already beginning preliminary discussions on how to combine their bills.

“I think the best way to go, from the point of view of our 52 co-sponsors, is [the] Senate takes up the Senate bill, where a majority of senators are behind that bill,” Udall said.

Highway Bill Complicating Factor 

Uncertain timing surrounding the highway bill poses another obstacle for TSCA supporters. McConnell said consideration of the highway bill would take a “week or so” but a number of senators have pledged to seek votes on amendments related to issues like gun control, defunding Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act that could prolong debate on the measure.

With floor time already scarce, such tactics imperil the chances of a vote on TSCA before the recess. Nevertheless, an aide to Vitter echoed Udall's optimism July 23 that the chamber could act on the chemicals bill before leaving town.

“TSCA reform is in a very good position to be scheduled and pass the Senate before August recess,” the aide said. “We just have to get through highways first.”

Supporters of the legislation range from some of the Senate's most conservative members, like Republican Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (Kan.), to some of its most liberal, like Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio).

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

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

The interview with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is available at /eye-hill-sen-m17179933857/.