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June 1 — Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul isn't backing down from his objections last week that derailed a sweeping overhaul of U.S. chemical law, and that has left supporters scouring the landscape for other ways to get the bill back on the floor in the weeks ahead.
Paul's lone objection on the floor May 26 blocked the bill from being passed under a fast-track procedure that would have virtually cemented overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act only days after the House version of the bill (H.R. 2576) sailed to passage in that chamber by a 403–12 vote (40 CRR 614, 5/30/16).
In a May 31 interview on Louisville radio station WHAS, the Kentucky senator only added to the objections he voiced on the floor last week, from the way the bill preempts state chemical regulation to language that he said essentially bars the Environmental Protection Agency from considering costs when assessing the safety of chemicals.
“I've been reading [the bill] over the weekend, and I'm going to give a speech on this next week when we go back,” Paul said in the interview, complaining that the “sweeping” overhaul of chemical law deserved more scrutiny.
The TSCA overhaul legislation would be the first significant update to the chemical law since 1976. Bill supporters say it would bring long overdue assessment of tens of thousands of chemicals already in U.S. commerce that the EPA has yet to vet, many of which may threaten human health and the environment.
Environmental groups and other supporters take issue with Paul's interpretations. For example, the bill precludes the consideration of costs only in the EPA's evaluation and decision on whether a chemical poses an unreasonable risk, Richard Denison, the Environmental Defense Fund's lead scientist, told Bloomberg BNA.
But costs are to be considered under the bill when the agency decides how to manage risks posed by the chemical, he said.
“If Senator Paul is claiming that the bill precludes EPA from taking into account costs of regulations, that is simply untrue,” Denison said. “In fact, it is quite the opposite.”
Paul was able to derail floor approval of the TSCA bill last week because it was offered under unanimous consent procedures.
Under that process, the bill would have been deemed passed as long as no senators objected.
The bill is called the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act and is named for the late New Jersey Democratic senator, an early advocate of overhauling TSCA.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has other options for moving the bill forward with or without Paul's approval.
One option, said an aide to bill supporter Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), is to bring the bill to the Senate floor by the traditional route, which could require time-consuming debate and a vote to avert a filibuster threat, perhaps after the chamber completes action on the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943) pending on the floor.
“We are hopeful that TSCA will move forward after the Senate concludes with the NDAA,” Donelle Harder, a spokeswoman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told Bloomberg BNA. “We are still working with leadership on what that will look like.”
But quick action on that bill is no sure thing. The Senate is to take up a motion to proceed on the bill June 6 and to vote on an NDAA amendment offered by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) later that same day. But final passage could take up much, if not all, of next week.
An aide to McConnell cautioned that there is little wiggle room for floor time, given what is likely to be a crowded legislative agenda in the weeks ahead. Among the bills that could easily elbow the TSCA bill for floor time are the Defense Department and other appropriations bills and possible action to address the Zika virus and Puerto Rico's debt crisis.
But if Paul doesn't relent, it would likely force Senate leadership to move the legislation in ways that would face a series of procedural hurdles and mandatory waiting time. The process could involve roughly two weeks to get to final passage. McConnell aides declined to address how the TSCA bill might fit into the majority leader's priorities for floor time in the weeks ahead.
Although lawmakers haven't formally reconciled the differences between the House and Senate bills, the legislation has been moved back and forth between the chambers with an eye toward keeping those differences to a minimum and ensuring bill managers can avoid amendments on the Senate floor, according to Harder, the EPW spokeswoman.
“There won't be an amendment process,” she told Bloomberg BNA June 1. “We are working for it to be considered in the same manner as a conference bill because that is what this bill's process reflects.”
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) also pushed back at any attempts to amend the legislation in a statement to Bloomberg BNA June 1. Any Senate amendments would mean the bill would have to be sent back to the House for its approval, a Carper aide said.
“I'm disappointed the Senate wasn't able to quickly approve the bill before we broke for Memorial Day recess,“ Carper told Bloomberg BNA. “But it's my sincere hope that we take it up as soon as the Senate reconvenes and pass the version that's been approved by the House so we can send it to President Obama for his signature.”
Obama is expected to sign the legislation if both chambers approve it.
The offices of Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Barrasso (R-Wyo.)—both members of the Senate Republican leadership who support the legislation—didn't respond to a Bloomberg BNA request for comment on the bill's path forward.
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