Green Light for Senate TSCA Bill as Sen. Paul Drops Objection

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By Dean Scott and Brian Dabbs

June 6 — Legislation to overhaul a 1970s-era U.S. chemical law now has a green light to return to the Senate floor, possibly this week, after Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul agreed to drop his objection to a fast-track vote.

“Senator Rand Paul believes in reading legislation before voting for or against it,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA, echoing the Kentucky senator's previous concerns that the Senate wasn't given ample time to review the bill.

“But [h]aving been given the opportunity to review this legislation, he’s now prepared to allow a vote to occur,” the spokesman said.

It's unclear how quickly the bill, which already has House approval, can be returned to the Senate floor, but proponents are pushing for a vote this week.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate majority whip, told Bloomberg BNA earlier in the day that the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576), which would revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act, remains a priority for Republican leaders—as long as a vote doesn’t consume valuable floor time.

“It’s a big, bipartisan bill, and I think most” concerns raised by Democrats and Republicans alike have “been hashed out already,” Cornyn said.

The majority whip spoke as senators returned to the Capitol to begin debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943); that bill is likely to consume at least a week of floor time.

Donelle Harder, a spokeswoman for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a leading proponent of the bill, confirmed that Paul had relented.

“Rand Paul lifted his hold today and we expect a vote on TSCA this week,” she said.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who took up the mantle for TSCA reform after Lautenberg died in 2013, told Bloomberg BNA by e-mail: “TSCA reform will become law in the near future, the only question is how soon. Since there's overwhelming support for TSCA reform in the Senate, I remain optimistic that we will soon find a path forward on an agreement.”

Bloomberg BNA prepared an analysis of TSCA compared with the authorities provided and requirements of the Lautenberg bill (see table this issue).

Yet Another TSCA Resurrection?

Paul objected to the bill being approved under unanimous consent on the Senate floor May 26. Under that expedited procedure, an objection from a single senator essentially blocks its passage.

If passed, H.R. 2576 would update TSCA’s core provisions for the first time since 1976. Supporters say the revisions would spur assessment of tens of thousands of chemicals in U.S. commerce that the EPA has not yet vetted, many of which threaten human health and the environment.

Paul’s objections, which ranged from the need for more time to comb through the bill to concerns over preemption of state regulatory authority, halted progress on a bill that had sailed to passage in the House days earlier by a vote of 403-12 (106 DEN A-3, 6/2/16); (101 DEN A-1, 5/25/16).

Republican aides on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which Inhofe chairs, said June 6 that they were in discussions earlier in the day with staff from Paul’s office. The aides, however, declined to discuss specific details of the meeting but suggested a deal was imminent.

Cornyn sounded an optimistic note earlier in the day, suggesting another try at a unanimous consent vote remained the preferred option given the time-consuming alternative, which would be to bring the bill like any other legislation to the floor.

Avoiding Time-Consuming Route

That traditional route at a minimum would have required 60 votes to proceed, followed by days of debate, which could have derailed the measure given the Senate's already crowded legislative agenda.

“I just know that generally speaking he [Paul] is a pretty reasonable guy, and once he’s able to express himself” the Kentucky Republican would likely relent, Cornyn predicted hours before Paul's announcement that he would allow the bill to go forward.

An aide to South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, another member of the Senate Republican leadership, said Thune still considers the TSCA bill a priority “and remains hopeful that could happen as early as this week.”

If Paul had not relented, the bill would have faced stiff competition not only from multiple appropriations bills but also possible legislative action to address the Zika virus and Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

“I would be a little surprised if there was floor time devoted to TSCA” if the bill now headed for expedited action had required a week or more of legislative attention, Cornyn warned.

With assistance from Pat Rizzuto in Washington.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com and Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

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