House Dems: Bill weakens chemical safety

House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee are warning that the GOP's second attempt to reform the nation's chemical laws could jeopardize state and local regulations on hydraulic fracturing.

"We believe this language is so broad that it could capture state and local laws designed to protect the environment and public health from chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process," committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Environment and the Economy subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) wrote Monday in a letter to subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

The letter comes one day before the Environment and the Economy subcommittee considers a draft bill that would reform the nation's decades-old chemical laws.

Republicans and Democrats agree these laws need to be updated, but they are at odds on how exactly to approach these reforms.

Shimkus introduced his original draft bill in February, which was heavily criticized by Democrats as well as environmental and public health groups, who said the changes would endanger public safety. Shimkus said his proposal would strengthen protections by allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to focus their efforts on the most dangerous chemicals.

Last week, Shimkus came out with a second version of the draft bill, which will be the focus of Tuesday's hearing. Shimkus has expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on the committee to reform the laws.

“I’ve said from the beginning of the process that I’ve wanted to work in a collaborative, bipartisan way to reform [the Toxic Substances Control Act] TSCA," Shimkus said in a statement. "This new draft reflects suggestions from members on both sides of the aisle, as well as stakeholders and the administration. We should be proud of what we have accomplished so far, and I am hopeful members can continue to work together as we move forward. Reforming TSCA is not only good for jobs and the economy, but it is also needed to improve protections for consumers and the environment.”

But a Democratic source said Shimkus has not taken their concerns seriously and that, in some ways, the second version of the bill is "worse" than the first version.

Not only would it weaken hydraulic fracturing regulations, the Democratic source said, but it would also prevent many states from enforcing many other chemical protections.

"We just get to the point where we're never negotiating any of the issues," the source added.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a green group, called it a "bad piece of legislation, pure and simple."

"The revisions are cosmetic at best and do little to improve our already woefully weak chemical regulations law," EWG spokesperson Jane Coaston told The Hill.

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