Lawmakers Ready Final Push to Get TSCA Reform Done

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By Anthony Adragna and Pat Rizzuto

May 19 — After months of bicameral negotiations, lawmakers announced May 19 they had effectively reached an agreement to overhaul the nation's primary industrial chemicals law.

Nearly a dozen Democratic and Republican senators, including Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), David Vitter (R-La.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), told reporters Congress intends to pass legislation to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act before departing for a week-long break at the end of the month.

Legislation to revamp TSCA will receive a House vote the week of May 23, Matt Sparks, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), told Bloomberg BNA May 19. The House Rules Committee said it will convene at 5 p.m. on May 23 to take up the measure (see related story).

That commitment comes even as negotiations continue with senior House Democrats, including Reps. Frank Pallone (N.J.) and Paul Tonko (N.Y.), with hopes of securing their support for the TSCA overhaul, the senators said May 19. Aides for both congressmen have not responded for days to repeated e-mails and phone calls requesting details about their concerns.

Despite those continuing discussions, Democratic and Republican senators said they had effectively finished the bill.

Inhofe: ‘On The President's Desk' Before Memorial Day

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, separately told Bloomberg BNA the text of the compromise TSCA legislation would be posted online “very, very shortly.”

The bill will be “passed, signed and on the president's desk” before the Memorial Day break, Inhofe told reporters at the senators' news conference.

If passed, the bill would mark the first comprehensive revision of a major environmental statute since 1990. TSCA has not been updated since 1976, the year Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computers Inc. and gas was 59 cents a gallon.

The draft bill reconciles the House and Senate's separate TSCA bills: the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576) in the House and the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in the Senate. Originally numbered S. 697, the Senate bill passed as an amendment to H.R. 2576.

Bloomberg BNA obtained a copy of the draft bill, called the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, May 18. It includes many of the provisions from the previous Senate bill (97 DEN A-1, 5/19/16).

“This really is a significant accomplishment,” Vitter said.

For decades, TSCA hasn't fully protected the public, and it created regulatory uncertainty, he said.

That uncertainty “endangered American companies’ continuing to lead innovation that makes all our lives better through the products we use every minute of every day,” Vitter said.

Boxer on Reasons She Supports Bill

Boxer, ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said that, prior to Lautenberg's death in June of 2013, she co-sponsored at least four of his bills to strengthen the health-protective provisions of TSCA.

Yet, she vigorously opposed earlier versions of the TSCA-reform bill that is now expected to move.

“I stopped this bill dead for years,” Boxer said. “We came from a place where the bill was worse than current law.”

After years of fighting and struggling, however, the draft agreement “is better than current law,” Boxer said.

Reasons she said she now supports the legislation include that:

  •  it would make the control of “dangerous substances like asbestos” a priority for Environmental Protection Agency action;
  •  it would give states clear times when they could regulate chemicals, such as if the EPA failed to complete required tasks by the bill's deadlines;
  •  it would generate information about chemicals stored near drinking water supplies.

 

New Chemicals

A key difference between the House and Senate bills concerned new chemicals.

The Senate bill required the EPA to affirmatively find a new chemical safe before it could be made in or imported into the U.S.

The House bill did not alter current TSCA provisions, meaning that new chemicals could enter commerce unless the agency raised concerns or made specific risk findings.

Ernie Rosenberg, president of the American Cleaning Institute, told Bloomberg BNA that similar to the Senate's bill, the draft agreement increases the EPA's oversight over new chemicals.

The draft bill will make it easier for the agency to secure information it seeks to assess the risks of new chemicals before they are made or imported, he said.

The measure, however, would not leave new chemicals in regulatory limbo while the agency assesses risks. It would provide clear deadlines and regulatory certainty for manufacturers of new chemicals, Rosenberg said.

The draft also is good for business, because it allows manufacturers to keep the specific identity of their chemicals and formulas for cleaning, paint and other products, confidential, he said.

More importantly, Rosenberg said, the draft legislation would increase the credibility that chemicals are being managed appropriately by the EPA.

“For our members the biggest threat is not state actions, it's retailers and certain bloggers,” he said.

Being able to point to a credible federal law is critical, Rosenberg said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anthony Adragna and Pat Rizzuto in Washington at aadragna@bna.com and prizzuto@bna.com

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

For More Information

A summary the Senate EPW Committee prepared for the draft agreement is available at: http://src.bna.com/fal.