The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday held their first hearing examining S. 1009, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, legislation to overhaul the nation's long-standing chemical safety laws. Reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, commonly referred to as TSCA, has been a goal of environmentalists, public health advocates, consumer groups, consumer product companies, and the chemical industry nearly since it was signed into law 37 years ago. The hearing, four months after a similar hearing in the Senate, provided Congressional supporters and opponents of the proposed legislation a chance to question key regulators and stakeholders about its implications and ways to find agreement on outstanding differences.
The hearing began with a rare occurrence in the current Congress, joint testimony from two Senators in opposing parties endorsing bi-partisan legislation. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) spoke in favor of the bill crafted originally by Vitter and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg. In a nod toward the bill's critics, Sen. Udall laid out what he feels are the three key elements of any reform plan: (1) EPA be provided the tools needed to review the nearly 84,000 chemicals in commerce; (2) private rights of action be maintained to hold bad actors accountable (this has been a concern of many public interest groups); and (3) states be allowed, in some form, to take meaningful actions against chemicals of concern (an issue that has been repeatedly raised by California's Congressional delegation).
Much of the hearing focused on EPA's analysis of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, testified for the Agency. Much of his testimony was devoted to the desirability of establishing deadlines for reviews to be conducted under the proposed legislation, as well as the standard of safety that would be used to classify chemicals. Among his concerns was the uncertain meaning of the "no unreasonable risk" language in the current bill, and he expressed a preference to have analysis done based on long-standing risk assessment procedures used by EPA. Part of Administrator Jones' fear is that without strong deadlines and a realizable risk standard, reviews of chemicals could go on for years without resolution.
A final point raised by Mr. Jones that did not receive much attention was the need for EPA to have the legislation "adequately and consistently" funded. This could mean, if passed, users of the review process would be assessed a fee not unlike how EPA currently processes applications for pesticide registrations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
The testimony from Tuesday's hearing can be found here.
Please click here for a previous alert issued on September 23, 2013: "House Subcommittee Hearing on TSCA Highlights Weaknesses in Current Chemicals Law."
Please click here for a copy of our slidedeck from the September 4, 2013 "Changes in U.S. Chemical Laws" webinar.