Chemicals Deal 'Very Close' But Not Yet Done: Lawmakers

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By Anthony Adragna

May 11 — Negotiators agree a deal revamping the nation's primary chemicals law is “very close” but what exactly that means remains a term of art.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), lead Senate sponsor of a broad overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act (S. 697), told reporters May 11 he expects a bicameral deal within days and said Congress could send that compromise legislation to the president's desk before it leaves for its Memorial Day recess the week of May 30.

“We still have a few outstanding issues—I don't want to get into those—but I think we'll be able to get it done this work period, if not sooner,” he said.

But Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), author of the House's narrower TSCA revamp (H.R. 2576), wavered on whether a deal could be completed this week as other top negotiators have suggested.

Shimkus Less Certain

“It depends on what hour you’re asking me,” Shimkus, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, told reporters. “In all honesty, had you asked me that at eight o’clock this morning, I would have said yes [it will be finished this week]. If you ask me about it now [midafternoon], I’m saying maybe.”

Shimkus wouldn't say what changed in those intervening hours but said he nevertheless thought it possible the House would be able to vote on the deal the week of May 16 under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass a bill. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) first indicated quick House action was possible a day earlier (91 DEN A-2, 5/11/16).

Neither Shimkus or Udall would characterize the remaining obstacles to a deal, though several other sources said the issue of federal preemption of state chemical laws and regulations remained a sticking point.

‘Tough' to Alter Senate Deal

Shimkus said the House appreciated the work in the Senate to gain Boxer's support and acknowledged it would be difficult to fiddle too much with that chamber's carefully negotiated compromise.

“We asked the Senate to help resolve this and bring Senator Boxer on board, which they did,” Shimkus said. “We have to give them great credit for that and that’s very helpful. So it’s tough for us to mess with that too much... Bottom line is their work is very helpful, and we just need to finish it.”

“We’re in a good place; we’re just not there yet,” he added.

Separately, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told Bloomberg BNA he chatted about the chemicals bill with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during a meeting.

“We did discuss it,” Inhofe said, but declined to say whether McConnell had promised him floor time on the measure.

Talk of Press Conferences

Udall saw other signs that negotiators were close to an agreement, noting that there was already talk of scheduling press conferences to announce a deal.

“As you get near the end, it takes a little time,” Udall told reporters. “[But] we’re getting close—we really are.”

Boxer told Bloomberg BNA that lawmakers continued to work an agreement throughout the day and were closing in on a deal.

“We’re wrapping it up, but it’s not done until it’s done,” Boxer, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said. “It’s getting closer to the finish line.”

Coalition Remains Opposed

Despite the efforts to gain Boxer's support, a coalition of health, environmental, consumer, labor, business and religious organizations said May 11 it remains opposed to the Senate’s bill based on the early preemption language that appears to remain in it, according to Andy Igrejas, co-founder of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

Statements Boxer recently made to reporters indicate the bill would continue to preempt states' ability to regulate a chemical in commerce up to seven years before the Environmental Protection Agency took action to manage it, Igrejas told Bloomberg BNA.

With assistance from Pat Rizzuto in Washington.

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