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By Pat Rizzuto
April 28 — With a 15-5 bipartisan vote, a Senate committee approved legislation April 28 that would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La) and other supporters of the bill said the version of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697) the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved struck the right balance between states' rights and industry's need for business certainty.
“The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act is an honest, balanced approach built on compromise, and the important thing to remember is that updating the outdated, inefficient TSCA will better protect the safety of our families and also advance innovation in our economy,” said Vitter, a co-sponsor who has worked toward a bipartisan TSCA-reform bill for two years.
“This isn't a perfect bill, but it is a very good one,” the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), said in a statement released after the vote. “We cannot let this opportunity to protect our kids from dangerous chemicals pass us by,” he said.
“Bipartisanship is rare in the Senate these days, and even more so on environmental issues,” Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) said in a statement.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, opposed the bill but said the marked up version of S. 697 fixed several concerns raised by state officials; organizations fighting mesothelioma, breast cancer and other diseases; and environmental health organizations.
Nevertheless, “we still have huge opposition to this bill,” Boxer said.
Additional protections of states rights, requirements to address chemicals stored near drinking water and other changes are needed to secure her vote, Boxer said.
The committee's action marks the first time in many years that a TSCA-reform bill has progressed through a House or Senate committee and the first time such legislation secured bipartisan support.
The committee vote also marks a step toward possible modernization of TSCA during the 114th Congress.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Environment and the Economy Subcommittee, has said that subcommittee will mark up May 14 a narrower bill he has circulated in draft form to modernize TSCA.
The version of S. 697 introduced March 10 was revised by Democrats and Republicans prior to the Environment Public Works Committee's consideration in key ways. For example the revised version would:
• allow chemical manufacturers to request the Environmental Protection Agency to review a larger number of chemicals than the original version would have allowed;
• clarify that state clean air and water laws wouldn't be preempted;
• allow states to enforce state chemical regulations that are identical to federal requirements;
• allow the public to comment on the EPA's decision as to whether a chemical is a low-priority for further review and possible regulation;
• allow the public to legally challenge a low-priority designation;
• direct the EPA as it selects high-priority chemicals for safety assessments to give preference to certain persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals; and
• increase the use of cellular, computational and other non-animal test methods that are being developed to predict and explain divergent toxic effects that chemicals may have.
The committee's approval of S. 697 was praised by the American Chemistry Council, the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) and an animal welfare organization.
“We appreciate the continued work of Senators Vitter and Udall to advance a bipartisan proposal that can garner the support necessary to become law and the engagement of Senators Booker, Merkley and Whitehouse to identify a workable path forward,” Cal Dooley, president and chief executive officer for the American Chemistry Council said in a statement the council issued.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) worked with Udall and Vitter to negotiate the revisions to S. 697 that secured their votes in the committee along with Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.).
“We look forward to continued progress at today’s markup and in the weeks to come,” Dooley said.
NACD President Eric Byer issued a statement that described the committee vote as “an important step in modernizing the way we assess the safety of chemicals”
“After decades of operating under a poorly written law, the vast majority of industry stakeholders agree: TSCA is not working. Members of both parties worked tirelessly to produce language that improves the process for evaluating chemicals without placing unfair burdens on industry,” Byer said.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a statement voicing support for the revised bill.
“The amended bill, approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today, will help replace and reduce animal-based chemical tests and increase the use of human-relevant methods,” the Physicians Committee said. The organization supports emerging cellular and other methods of evaluating toxicity because it argues they are more effective than animal-based approaches.
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families; the Center for Environmental Health; and the Natural Resources Defense Council commended both sides of the aisle for making progress in addressing some concerns they had raised about the introduced version of S. 697 and legislation it stemmed from, called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.
There are clear improvements in the revised S. 697, wrote Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, in an April 27 letter to Boxer and Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
“Due to several provisions that remain, however, and some of the new changes, we cannot support the overall bill at this time. We support further improvement and look forward to working with both Houses of Congress for the strongest possible reform of TSCA,” Igrejas wrote.
The committee's vote should lock in place the significant improvements in the bill that resulted from the tenacious efforts of Booker, Merkley and Whitehouse, Daniel Rosenberg, a senior NRDC attorney, said in a statement.
“NRDC will continue to work to improve the bill as it moves through the legislative process, including by eliminating the remaining rollbacks from current law, increasing public health protections, and further ensuring that no EPA could use the bill to weaken chemical safety,” he said.
“The committee today unfortunately rejected several amendments that would have addressed many of these concerns,” Rosenberg said.
Amendments that the committee rejected would have taken actions such as:
• allowing states to regulate a chemical until the EPA issued a regulation controlling its risks (under the bill most state regulations are preempted once the agency begins to assess a chemical's risks);
• directing the EPA to assess the safety of asbestos within two years of the law‘s enactment and to promulgate a rule concerning asbestos within three years;
• requiring the EPA to consider a chemical's storage near sources of drinking water as a factor that could make the chemical a high-priority for safety assessment; and
• authorizing the EPA to coordinate with other federal, state and local agencies to investigate disease clusters and the environmental pollutants that might be associated with them.
Republicans and Democrats voted 10-10 on both the drinking water and disease cluster amendments, with Inhofe casting the tie-breaking vote to reject those amendments.
To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at email@example.com
Text of S. 697 as approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee along with related information is available at http://www.tomudall.senate.gov/chemicalsafety/.
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families' letter is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=prio-9vzs6t.
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