Senators Negotiating Time Limits for TSCA-Reform Bill Debate

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By Anthony Adragna and Pat Rizzuto

July 8 — Senators are pushing for floor time and negotiating voluntary time limits to debate legislation to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates chemicals in consumer and industrial use.

“That’s what I’m in the middle of right now—trying to get floor time. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m planning to,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Bloomberg BNA July 8.

Inhofe referred to the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697).

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced S. 697, which is co-sponsored by 19 other Democrats and 24 Republicans.

Staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have told Bloomberg BNA previously that McConnell wants Democrats to agree to limit the time they will spend debating the bill and the number of amendments they will add to it.

Udall told Bloomberg BNA he would like to have an open amendment process that would complete debate and reach a final vote in a week or two.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) told Bloomberg BNA: “I think we’ve got a shot. Those of us who supported the bill coming out of committee I think would very much support doing that [reaching a time agreement].”

States Urge Senate to Vote

The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) added their voices to those pushing the Senate to take up TSCA modernization.

The state organizations sent a letter July 2 to McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

They congratulated the House on its passage of a TSCA modernization bill and encouraged the Senate to proceed on its legislation. The House approved the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576) June 23 with a 398-1 vote.

The House bill would allow states to regulate chemicals until the EPA makes a final determination as to whether a regulation is needed or not.

S. 697 would limit the scope of or preclude state chemical regulations while the EPA assesses a chemical's safety, but before it reaches a conclusion as to the safety of the chemical.

ECOS and NCSL support the House approach, wrote Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, executive director and general counsel for ECOS, and William Pound, executive director of NCSL.

Inhofe, Boxer Urge Separate Bills 

When the Senate takes up TSCA reform, “we’ll be considering the Senate bill,” Inhofe told Bloomberg BNA.

He was referring to Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) preference for using H.R. 2576 as the starting point for legislation and then amending it on the Senate floor. Boxer, who opposes S. 697, has said this several times, most recently in a July 8 statement.

A coalition of environmental, health, labor and consumer advocacy groups also support using the House bill as the starting point.

“I want to see the House bill come to the floor because it’s much easier, it’s much more straightforward,” Boxer told Bloomberg BNA. “It needs about four or five amendments that we could vote on.”

Boxer's office did not reply to requests for details on specific changes she would plan to make to either the House or Senate bill, if one or the other is taken up on the floor.

During an April 28 committee markup of S. 697, Boxer said she would bring 27 amendments to the floor if the Senate takes up the bill. These would include measures to add additional protections for states rights and requirements to address chemicals stored near drinking water.

 

On July 8, Boxer said she agrees with perspectives the coalition voiced in a July 7 letter encouraging Senate leaders to bring the House bill to the floor.

The coalition's letter detailed key requirements of the House and Senate bills that the coalition opposes and ones it would support.

Udall: Senate Has Better Bill

Udall said S. 697 should be the focus of the Senate's discussion.

“While I respect my House colleagues' important work on chemical safety reform, it lacks key provisions in the Senate bill to protect families in New Mexico and across the country from dangerous chemicals, and the administration has concerns with its implementation,” Udall told Bloomberg BNA.

“I think the Senate's is a better bill. This is something the Senate has worked on for a long time. It’s a much more comprehensive bill,” he told reporters.

Strengths of the Senate bill, Udall said, include:

• the safety standard it requires chemicals to meet to protect public health and the environment;

• the $18 million in fees it would secure from chemical manufacturers annually for the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the law;

• the new chemicals provisions that would require the EPA to make an affirmative decision that a new chemical would be safe before allowing it to be manufactured; and

• confidential business information provisions that would ensure doctors and other health-care providers and emergency responders have access to chemical information they would need to address emergencies.

 

Addressing TSCA Failures 

“The Senate's comprehensive bill would address all of the major ways the current law fails,” Udall told Bloomberg BNA.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who introduced H.R. 2576, recommended at a recent Bipartisan Policy Center forum that the Senate take up S. 697, Udall said.

He referred to a June 25 forum where Shimkus and Udall said House and Senate staff already are identifying ways to integrate the different approaches each chamber has taken to update TSCA, which has not had its core provisions changed since 1976 when the average price of gasoline was 57 cents a gallon.

The two chambers would then work to reconcile the differences with their bills, Udall told Bloomberg BNA. “That is the common sense path forward.”

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

The ECOS and NCSL letter is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=prio-9y7v5s.

The coalition letter is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=prio-9y8rxs.