By Pat Rizzuto
May 23 — Legislation to overhaul the nation's primary chemicals law by expanding the Environmental Protection Agency's authorities to obtain information and regulate chemicals is backed by the White House and scheduled to be voted on in the House May 24.
“The administration strongly supports the bipartisan, bicameral efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) embodied in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2576. The bill is a clear improvement over the current TSCA and represents a historic advancement for both chemical safety and environmental law,” the White House said in a statement May 23.
The bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576), would overhaul TSCA for the first time since 1976.
H.R. 2576 will come to the floor with only a manager's amendment following its consideration on May 23 by the House Rules Committee, the leadership's channel for setting floor votes.
“When the House takes up this bill tomorrow, we expect it to pass by a wide margin and we expect the Senate will support it without amendment,” Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, told the House Rules Committee.
Key House Democrats announced their support for the bill May 23 after securing wins through weekend negotiations over issues including when states could regulate chemicals.
“Recent changes Democrats made will reduce the harm of the state preemption provisions in the bill,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said in a statement May 23.
The House released a version of H.R. 2576 on May 20 that had been negotiated by Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, and praised by members in both chambers in a statement. A legislative analysis of the bill is included in a separate story in this issue (See related story).
Even as that negotiated bill was released, some House Democrats, state environmental officials and organizations including the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition of environmental, health and other advocacy groups sought further changes.
In a key push, they sought to limit the so-called “regulatory pause.” That term refers to a three to four year period established by the legislation during which states would be preempted from regulating chemicals even though the EPA had not yet decided whether it would regulate them (99 DEN A-20, 5/23/16).
Some Democrats will vote against the bill due to their objections to the regulatory pause, Pallone told the House Rules Committee.
A manager's amendment released May 23 made several changes to the negotiated bill including limiting the regulatory pause, he said.
According to the manager's amendment, if a chemical manufacturer or group of companies asks the EPA to assess a chemical—and pays for that assessment—states could still regulate that chemical until the agency makes a final decision about it, environmentalists' legislative analysts told Bloomberg BNA.
Previously, state regulations were preempted from the time the EPA announced the scope of nearly any risk evaluation of a chemical, including chemical assessments requested and paid for by industry, until the agency made a decision or exceeded certain time limits included in the legislation.
The manager's amendment also would provide the EPA with additional authority to “unilaterally demand testing on chemicals it suspects are unsafe for people or harmful to the environment,” Pelosi, Hoyer and Pallone said.
The American Chemistry Council, National Association of Manufacturers, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce were among the many industry groups that voiced support for the bill on May 23. Many other trade associations had backed the bill released May 20.
“The final legislation released today is a major win for America’s economy and American consumers. It is a true compromise that balances the interests of multiple stakeholders and has an almost-unprecedented level of bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. We look forward to a speedy vote in the House and quick action in the Senate,” said Cal Dooley, chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council, in a May 23 statement.
R. Bruce Josten, an executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released an open letter saying legislation would bring much needed reforms to TSCA.
“This bill would also provide clarity for industry and manufacturers to continue economic growth by establishing a new system for the Environmental Protection Agency to manage and evaluate risks of chemicals; preempting certain state regulatory actions during the pendency of an EPA risk evaluation; and maintaining certain confidential business information protections,” Josten said.
Aric Newhouse, National Association of Manufacturer's senior vice president, issued a statement calling TSCA an outdated law that created “bureaucratic burdens” while failing to reflect modern manufacturing.
The agreed-upon legislation “is a win for everyone, including manufacturers, enabling further improvement of manufactured products and economic growth and opportunities,” Newhouse said.
The Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported bipartisan negotiations for TSCA reform for years, said: it welcomed the latest version of the measure.
“With today’s announcement, Congress is at last poised to adopt protections for children, pregnant women, workers and all Americans that are decades overdue,” said EDF's President Fred Krupp in an e-mailed statement.
“While not perfect, this will be a dramatic improvement over current law. Congress should act fast to pass this legislation, so we can begin the process of restoring confidence in our chemical safety system,” added EDF Senior Scientist Richard Denison.
Linda Reinstein, president and chief executive officer of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, praised the idea of TSCA reform, but voiced concern about the bill coming before both chambers.
“Although the anticipated passage is a landmark step forward to ensure the EPA can prevent toxic exposures, TSCA reform legislation should have immediately prohibited asbestos imports,” she she told Bloomberg BNA by email, adding, “ each year, up to 15,000 Americans die from preventable asbestos-caused diseases.”
H.R. 2576 does not direct the EPA to take action on any specific chemical, but describes characteristics of chemicals such as their ability to cause cancer, cause other health problems, persist in the environment and bioaccumulate up the food chain, that would make them priorities for EPA action.
Daniel Rosenberg, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council who served as environmental counsel to Lautenberg, the late senator from New Jersey, told Bloomberg BNA the negotiated bill and manager's amendment “on paper” would seem to make it easier for the EPA to obtain toxicity, exposure and other information on chemicals and regulate chemicals of concern.
NRDC is concerned, however, by provisions of the bill that would reduce the EPA's ability to regulate chemicals in manufactured goods, such as cars or televisions, that are imported into the country, he said.
NRDC also is concerned the bill may overly restrict state action to manage chemicals of concern, Rosenberg said.
Participating in the EPA's implementation of the new law will be essential, he said.
Chemical manufacturers and other industries affected by TSCA will continue to fiercely oppose any EPA efforts to manage chemicals, Rosenberg said. He predicted the regulatory and judicial phase of implementing the legislation, if it becomes law, will be “quite contentious.”
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The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576), and manager's amendment posted May 23, are available at https://rules.house.gov/bill/114/hr-2576-sa.
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