States criticize GOP chemical reforms

The attorneys general in 13 states say a House Republican plan to reform decades-old chemical laws would actually roll back public health and environmental protections. 

In a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the attorneys general say they are "deeply concerned" about Rep. John Shimkus's (R-Ill.) plan to update the Toxic Chemicals Control Act from 1976, because it would take away their authority to regulate these potentially dangerous substances in their own states.

"For new chemicals, (Shimkus' draft bill) would preempt state regulation of a chemical irrespective of whether (the Environmental Protection Agency) took required action regarding that chemical," the attorneys general wrote.

Shimkus introduced a discussion draft in February as part of a longtime effort to reform the Toxic Chemicals Control Act from 1976, initially spearheaded by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). 

The reforms have received renewed attention following a chemical spill in West Virginia earlier in the year, which involved a chemical with unknown health risks, due to lapses in the outdated EPA regulations.

The attorneys general pointed out that most of the 84,000 registered chemicals are not regulated by the EPA.

Republicans and Democrats agree the nation's chemical laws need to be updated to account for these "well-recognized shortcomings" that arose over the decades, but many Democrats along with public health and environmental groups have criticized Shimkus's approach.

Now the attorneys general in 13 states, including New York, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, are criticizing Shimkus.

The attorneys general said the draft bill would disrupt their ability to protect people in their states from toxic chemicals and move the goal of reform "further out of reach."

Shimkus's proposal would direct the EPA to focus more attention on stopping high-priority chemicals from endangering the public, while shying away from less important chemicals that could distract the agency, he said.

But the attorneys general said this would create loopholes for toxic chemicals to go unregulated. 

"This is particularly troubling in the case of chemicals EPA has categorized as low priority. Chemicals may be given that designation even though they pose either a high hazard or a high exposure," the attorneys general wrote. 

"Thus, states would be preempted from protecting their citizens from chemicals that pose either a high hazard or a high exposure that EPA never regulates," they added.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold another hearing about Shimkus's draft bill on April 29.