In 2012, Congress passed bills on hazardous waste and pesticides. President Barack Obama signed both into law. The Senate also held hearings on reforming the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and on flame retardants.
One new law authorizes an electronic tracking system to replace multicopy paperwork that must accompany shipments of hazardous waste. The law calls on EPA to establish within three years a system to track hazardous electronic waste shipments. This move is expected to save generators—such as chemical companies and universities—and handlers of hazardous waste tens of millions of dollars each year.
On pesticides, Congress made it a priority this year to reauthorize the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA). The law, which allows EPA to collect registration fees from pesticide manufacturers through 2017, cleared both the House of Representatives and Senate in mid-September, just two weeks before the previous PRIA bill was set to expire.
PRIA legislation was initially wrapped up in a farm bill reauthorization package, but when it became clear that the farm bill was not going to pass in September, lawmakers made PRIA a stand-alone bill. At press time, lawmakers were still debating the farm bill, with the possibility of including it in budget legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.
In other action, a Senate committee this year approved legislation to update TSCA. This marked the first time a congressional panel has moved a bill to recast the 1976 federal law that governs chemical manufacturing. In July, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works approved the bill, the proposed Safe Chemicals Act, which Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has championed for years. But the measure was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
Also, the Senate held two hearings on flame retardants in the wake of an investigative series on these chemicals published in the Chicago Tribune this spring. At one hearing, officials from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Underwriters Laboratory testified that furniture padded with foam treated with flame retardants burns almost as fast as identical furniture without these compounds. Manufacturers of flame-retardant chemicals defended their products at another hearing.