Energy & Environment

House, Senate roll out chemical safety compromise

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Leading lawmakers in the House and Senate on Friday unveiled a compromise chemical safety overhaul bill after months of negotiations.

The bipartisan bill, dubbed the Frank L. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, would reform the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) after years of complaints that it is ineffective and causes uncertainty for businesses.

{mosads}The legislation is the result of nearly a year and a half of intense legislative work and compromise and comes on the heels of numerous false starts and predictions that the reform effort would not succeed. Both chambers still must pass it, and President Obama must sign it.

“This bicameral agreement represents a vast improvement over current law and takes a thoughtful approach to protecting people all across the country from unsafe chemical exposure while setting a new standard for quality regulation,” Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its environment subcommittee, said in a statement. “It’s good for jobs, good for consumers, and good for the environment.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the effort brought in more than 150 groups, the federal government, environmentalists, the chemical industry and others.

“This commonsense reform of TSCA will now provide regulatory certainty across America that will support the creation of more than 700,000 new jobs and more than $293 billion in permanent new domestic economic output by 2023,” he said. This historic piece of legislation also improves the safety of everyday products, from household cleaners to the material used to make our automobiles.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), the Democratic sponsor of the Senate’s original chemical reform bill, said the resulting product is a great improvement over current law.

“The new law will protect the most vulnerable, ensure [the Environmental Protection Agency] is testing all new chemicals and has the authority to take action if chemicals are unsafe, and it will provide EPA with resources — contributed by industry — to do its job,” he said.

Despite the buy-in from numerous constituencies, Reps Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the top Democrats on Energy and Commerce and the environment subpanel, do not support the final version of the bill.

Pallone said earlier this week that he had multiple problems with the compromise, but his biggest objection was that it took too much power away from state environmental regulators to control harmful chemicals themselves if they do not believe the federal EPA has done enough.

“The problem is that the Republicans have made this bill, from what I understand, that the draft that they’re proposing, is weaker than the current law,” Pallone said Wednesday. “So there wouldn’t be any point in having it.”

Pallone did not respond to requests Friday for comment. But Tonko said in a statement that he opposes the legislation that was released.

“We must have a strong national chemical program to protect Americans,” he said. “However, I am not convinced that the program that will be put into place by this bill justifies the unprecedented, new limitation of states’ authorities.”

Regulators in six liberal states agree with Pallone and Tonko’s concerns. They said in a joint statement late Thursday that the bill went too far in limiting states’ rights.

The opposition from Pallone and Tonko could doom the bill’s chances in the House. But Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that they disagree with their colleagues and support the measure.

“Our bipartisan, bicameral proposal will close the gap in the TSCA’s shortcomings by requiring the EPA to protect our most vulnerable from unsafe chemicals,” said Green.

The bill is named after the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who worked for years to reform the TSCA until his death in 2013.

It would give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sweeping new authority and resources to order testing of and implement controls on thousands of potentially harmful chemicals. Under TSCA, the EPA has only banned six chemicals and hasn’t regulated a new one since 1990.

In return for the new rules that Democrats and environmental advocates wanted, Republicans and the chemical industry get to avoid a “patchwork” of state regulations. The bill would severely limit states’ rights to regulate chemicals, something on which they have taken the lead over the last few decades.

The House plans to take up the bill for a vote early next week, at which point the Senate can act and get the bill on Obama’s desk for his consideration by the end of the week.

The Obama administration has so far been supportive of the negotiations. The EPA said earlier this week that the latest draft its officials saw fit with the administration’s priorities and is a clear improvement over current law.

— This story was updated at 3:45 p.m.

Tags Environmental Protection Agency Gene Green Tom Udall Toxic Substances Control Act
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