House panel to review Senate toxic chemical bill

A House subcommittee will take a look at Senate legislation to reform the nation’s widely criticized toxic chemical law next week, in the chamber’s first exploration of the bipartisan bill.

The Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the Environment and the Economy is planning to probe the potentially landmark bill to update the Toxic Substances Control Act next Wednesday, according to people familiar with its schedule.

The hearing would be the first time the House examines the Senate legislation, which was introduced in May by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). The panel has previously investigated different aspects of the outdated 1976 chemical safety law, but not discussed new legislation to reform it. 

The hearing has not yet been formally announced, but officials from the American Chemistry Council, Environmental Defense Fund, American Cleaning Institute and the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition are likely to testify.

Current law makes it too difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action against dangerous chemicals, critics have said. They point to the years it spent trying to crack down on asbestos, which has been proven to cause cancer; it was halted when a court ruled it had gone beyond its authority in 1991.

The Vitter and Lautenberg bill, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, would give the EPA more power to review chemicals currently on the market.

Liberal lawmakers and outside advocates say that the bill would need serious reforms before it could move forward. They worry that it would prevent states from enacting their own more restrictive state laws and does not adequately protect pregnant mothers and other vulnerable people.

Vitter and other lawmakers in the Senate have pledged to work on a new version of the bill that would eliminate any unintended oversights such as preempting state action or preventing potential lawsuits against chemical companies.

The bill currently has nearly two dozen co-sponsors in the Senate. 

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