The chemical-law formula

When it comes to how the federal government regulates chemicals, the time is right for some significant changes. The Environmental Protection Agency is operating under a 30-year-old law. State and local governments are placing their own limits on the use of chemicals. And the public seems to have lost faith in the federal government’s ability to protect them. Congress has taken notice and is expected to take up the issue this summer.

While it may come as a surprise to some, the American Chemistry Council and its members agree with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that a review and revision of existing law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, should be made a priority this year.

The time has come to harness the scientific and technological advances that have been developed since 1976. Modernizing the law will help us safeguard our most valuable resources as we continue to bring to market the products that save lives, protect our children and strengthen our economy.

As is often the case, the devil is always in the details. What exactly should be changed to restore confidence while ensuring that we continue to bring innovative and vital products to Americans?

Along with ensuring that the system reflects the latest advances in science and technology, Congress must grant EPA the necessary tools and authority to make decisions on chemical safety and enforce them in a timely manner.

Today, the EPA cannot make a formal determination on whether or not a chemical is safe for its intended use. That must change. Authorizing EPA to make formal safety determinations on priority chemicals on a timely basis will go a long way toward building trust in the federal government.

Another important component is establishment of clear scientific principles and protocols to evaluate all chemical research and testing. The chemical industry certainly supports ongoing, rigorous testing of our products. But all chemical research should be held to high and consistent standards to support the decision-making process.

To fulfill this new mission, EPA must have the appropriate level of funding, staffing and resources to take advantage of the increasing amount of information available on the chemicals it regulates.

We must also give EPA the authority to share confidential information with state and local governments when relevant to a decision on chemical safety (with appropriate safeguards for protection against unnecessary disclosure).

We are advocating for these improvements because we need a regulatory system that addresses public and governmental concerns about chemicals. And we need a system that enhances the competitiveness and innovation of our industry and reflects the scientific and technological innovations achieved over the last generation.

Our industry has a critical role in the chemical management system. We will continue to provide relevant and timely information in a transparent manner on the chemicals we produce to help EPA assure the safety of all chemicals on production.

Our industry is also critical to the stability and growth of the American economy, as well as developing vital products that meet basic societal needs and improve our quality of life. The chemical industry contributes more than 850,000 jobs and $664 billion to the U.S. economy, represents 28 percent of the gross domestic product, and is one of the nation’s top exporters with $154 billion in annual exports.

This new chemical management initiative comes at a time of great change and great expectation in our country. We look forward to working with the Obama administration, the Congress and all the relevant stakeholders in advancing the public interest.

Dooley is president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.