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Policy

Reforming The Toxic Substances Control Act

Legislation: House Republicans unveil a draft bill to overhaul federal law on chemical safety

by Cheryl Hogue
February 28, 2014

Republicans in the House of Representatives have rolled out draft legislation to overhaul the federal law that controls commercial chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment & the Economy, says the draft bill is a starting point for discussion among lawmakers. The draft, which was released late on Feb. 27, will likely be changed before it is formally introduced, Shimkus says.

Among other things, the draft bill would require EPA to divide all commercial chemicals on the market into two categories, low or high priority, depending on whether existing information on a substance suggests it might pose a risk to human health or the environment. EPA would assess each high-priority chemical for safety then either deem it safe for its intended uses or regulate it by requiring labels or restricting or phasing out its use. Low-priority chemicals, for the most part, would not be assessed.

Democrats are engaging with Republicans on the legislation, Shimkus says. But brokering a bipartisan deal might prove tough.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the Energy & Commerce Committee, says he can’t support the draft bill as initially released. “It would weaken current law and endanger public health.” But, Waxman adds, “bipartisan discussions have started, and I’m hopeful that the draft can be significantly modified.”

Chemical industry trade associations are politely welcoming the draft, while environmental and health activists are speaking out against it.

The American Chemistry Council, a trade association of chemical manufacturers, calls the draft a “positive development” toward reforming TSCA. The American Cleaning Institute, a trade group of soap and detergent makers, says the bill is “an important contribution” toward modernizing the 37-year-old chemical control law.

But Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of some 450 environmental and health groups, businesses, and unions, says the draft legislation wouldn’t protect the public from high-risk chemicals. For instance, the group notes, the draft would prohibit EPA from controlling a risky chemical used in products unless a safer alternative is available.

Shimkus says the Environment & Economy Subcommittee will hold one or two hearings on the draft measure in March. After those hearings, Republicans intend to introduce a revised version in April. Shimkus hopes the legislation will move quickly through the House.

The draft House measure shares some similarity to a bipartisan bill (S. 1009) introduced last year in the Senate. But the Senate measure contains a number of details that could cause complications, which its cosponsors say they did not intend to create. Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) continue to hash over that measure with hopes of revising it so that it can move through the Senate.

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