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July 15 — Supporters of the first major overhaul of a U.S. chemical law are continuing to press Senate Republican leaders for a vote on the bill (S. 697) before the August recess, but the window of opportunity for floor time may be closing fast.
There are several obstacles to getting the Senate to move on the bill to revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act before senators depart at the end of the week of Aug. 3. Republican Senate leaders are prepared to move to a surface transportation reauthorization measure after completing work on an education package (S. 1177) now on the floor.
“[TSCA] is going to probably be after highways,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), told Bloomberg BNA July 15.
The Senate is expected to spend two weeks on the highway bill, according to two Republican aides.
That would put off possible consideration of TSCA at least until the week of Aug. 3, but Senate leaders continue to push for a time agreement that would limit floor debate on the measure, which aides say must be in place before the bill is brought to the floor.
Further complicating TSCA's prospects for a vote in the coming weeks: Republican leaders are also considering moving a cybersecurity measure that week, the aides said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn't yet agreed to give floor time to what would be the first update since 1976 of the nation's chemical safety law, which regulates chemicals in consumer and industrial use, though negotiations continue on limiting the number of amendments the chamber would consider. An aide to McConnell said the bill remained "in the mix” for possible consideration.
“We're pushing hard to be in this work period,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), one of the bill's sponsors, also told Bloomberg BNA July 15. “There's still a lot of discussion about us being in this work period by all the leadership teams.”
Even if the chamber doesn't act on the bill before the August recess, it could still make time for its consideration later in the year, one of the aides said.
The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697) enjoys the support of 48 co-sponsors. House lawmakers previously passed a narrower reform bill—the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576)—in late June on a 398-1 vote.
An aide to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), one of the sponsors of S. 697 along with Udall, told Bloomberg BNA July 15 the chamber was the “closest we've ever been” to voting on updating the chemical safety law.
“There’s a really good chance that we’ll get it on the floor that first week of August, and at this point, we’re the closest we’ve ever been,” the aide said, adding the bill should secure more than 50 co-sponsors over the next day or two.
Key to the bill's chances may be whether Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who strongly opposes the Senate bill, allows an agreement on amendments.
“I think if we can get an agreement with Senator Boxer, in terms of the number of amendments and time to bring it forth, we could do that,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Bloomberg BNA regarding consideration of the bill before recess. “If somebody wants to drag it out, you can’t get it done.”
Multiple senators told Bloomberg BNA the chamber's packed schedule—with items like the highway bill and review of the nuclear deal with Iran—might make it a challenge for consideration of the TSCA measure before August.
“I thought it would have had a chance to go before we took the break, but that was [the thinking] a month ago,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said. “Things have happened since then.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said July 14 some provisions of his Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2015 (S. 1447) already have been incorporated into the Senate TSCA overhaul. Coons, a co-sponsor of S. 697, spoke during the 19th annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference held by the American Chemical Society.
For example, both his bill and S. 697 would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to establish an interagency sustainable chemistry program—led by an interagency working group consisting of at least seven federal agencies—to coordinate and promote federal research in, development of and training for sustainable chemistry, Coons said.
Under both bills, the interagency working group would receive recommendations from an advisory council with representatives of small and larger businesses, academia, state and tribal governments and nongovernmental organizations, he said.
Coons said he is working with Senate colleagues to incorporate further provisions of the Sustainable Chemistry bill into S. 697.
The EPW committee's report (H. Rept. 114-67) that accompanied the version of S. 697 the committee approved April 28 includes a minority view section summarizing changes Sens. Boxer, Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) would like included in the Udall-Vitter bill.
• allow states to regulate chemicals until the EPA takes a final action;
• require that chemicals or situations dealing with chemicals that are known to be dangerous, such as asbestos or chemicals stored near drinking water sources, are addressed; and
• improve the scope and speed of chemicals that the EPA would be required to assess under the bill.
Senate debate would proceed quickly if the changes were made or if the Senate takes up the House bill as a starting point for the Senate's vote, a Democratic aide to the EPW Committee told Bloomberg BNA July 13.
Without the changes, extensive amendments would be offered to the bill, the Democratic aide said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
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