Senate Passes Chemical Reform Bill, It Now Heads to President

Get complete, dependable coverage of the regulation at every stage in the chemical life cycle, including comprehensive news on REACH, the Toxic Substances Control Act, up-to-date HAZMAT guidance,...

By Brian Dabbs, Pat Rizzuto, Dean Scott and Steven Gibb

June 7 — With a unanimous consent voice vote, the Senate passed legislation June 7 to fundamentally revise the Toxic Substances Control Act, the nation's primary chemicals law.

“For the first time in 40 years, the United States will have a chemical safety program that works,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who has led the Democratic effort to secure passage of the bill since 2013 after the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), for whom the legislation is named.

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576) “the most significant environmental law passed in this generation.”

“The old law did not work. This one is going to protect the American people,” Markey said.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who co-sponsored the bill with Udall, thanked all who participated in the multi-year effort to craft bipartisan legislation with “an often brutal stretch of negotiations. Several times, we walked away to come back together again.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who opposed the bill for years, highlighted key changes that have convinced her the legislation would be better than current law.

Getting to that point, Boxer said, “has been the most complicated journey I have ever had to take on any piece of legislation.”

Udall Highlights Key Changes to Current Law

Udall highlighted key changes the bill would make to existing TSCA. In contrast to current law, he said, that H.R. 2576 would:

  •  require the EPA to protect the most vulnerable people: children, the elderly, pregnant women, and chemical workers;
  •  give the EPA new authority to order testing and ensure chemicals are safe, with a focus on the most risky chemicals, such as known carcinogens and those with high toxicity;
  •  ensure the EPA reviews new chemicals before they go on the market;
  •  set mandatory, enforceable deadlines for the EPA to act;
  •  provide the EPA with resources to do its job and require that industry do its share to support the program by paying up to $25 million in fees annually; and
  •  allow all states multiple ways to act on chemicals, including unfettered authority on chemicals where the EPA is not acting, and options for state co-enforcement and waivers from federal preemption where the EPA has acted to restrict a chemical.

 

Boxer tackled head on a concern held by states that have been regulating chemicals due to the lack of EPA regulations.

“If a bad EPA takes no actions, states will be free to act,” Boxer said. “We have a much better balance between the states and the federal government.”

The Senate's passage of the TSCA-reform legislation was quickly hailed by divergent groups.

Timeline for TSCA
Reaction from NGOs, Industry, Academia

Richard Denison, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, blogged: “Today, the truly remarkable happened: The U.S. Senate passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act with strong bipartisan support.”

“Of course, in many ways the real work now begins,” Denison wrote. “Implementing the new law will take the same level of hard work and dedication it’s taken to get us to this point—and that will be a real challenge in an area fraught with contention and conflict.”

American Chemistry Council CEO Cal Dooley said, “The path to more modern chemical regulation has been decades in the making and it’s been over three years since work to achieve TSCA reform began in earnest.”

Jay Timmons, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement that, “By delivering clear, modernized rules, this reform will make it easier for manufacturers to ensure the safety of our products and deliver quality goods to our customers.

“The regulations on these chemicals will be clearer and more straightforward, meaning time and resources that would have been spent trying to navigate outdated, confusing rules can now be spent on driving innovation and creating jobs.”

Not Unalloyed Praise

Not all environmental groups expressed support for the measure. The Environmental Working Group's Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber said, “While the legislation Congress now sends to the president makes improvements to the worst environmental law on the books, it does not meet the reasonable expectations of American consumers. In particular, the bill may not provide EPA with the resources or clear legal authority the agency needs to quickly review and, if needed, ban dangerous chemicals linked to cancer and other serious health problems.”

Long Wait

Bill Farland, a former senior EPA official who now is senior adviser to the vice president and professor at Colorado State University, told Bloomberg BNA: “In my 37-year affiliation with EPA (27 as an employee), we expected TSCA reform several times.

“Now it is about to happen. Congratulations to all involved in the efforts, from the Congress, NGOs, industry and academia.

“The bill will give the agency many of the tools it lacked and additional access to resources to assess priority chemicals and protect public and environmental health,” Farland said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto at prizzuto@bna.com ; Brian Dabbs at bdabbs@bna.com; Dean Scott at dscott@bna.com; Steven Gibb at sgibb@bna.com

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