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Chemical Reform Bill Moves Forward In Senate

Congress: Committee clears compromise bill that would update 1976 law governing commercial substances

by Britt E. Erickson
April 30, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 18

Credit: U.S. Congress
Photo of Republican Senator of Louisiana, David Vitter's Official 112th Congressional Portrait, 2011.
Credit: U.S. Congress

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have taken a major step toward overhauling the nation’s outdated law governing commercial chemicals. A Senate committee on April 28 approved a bipartisan bill to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Credit: U.S. Congress
Photo of Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
Credit: U.S. Congress

Because a handful of Democrats support the measure, the legislation, S. 697, stands a solid chance of passage by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Both the chemical industry and advocacy groups for years have pressed Congress to modernize TSCA, though they don’t see eye to eye on S. 697.

Environmental and health activists say the measure, which the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee approved 15-5, is an improvement over previous TSCA reform bills. But they say it still falls short in some provisions. For instance, Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, an environmental and public health coalition, says S. 697 would “roll back EPA’s authority to restrict significant new uses of a chemical.”

The chemical sector, on the other hand, is applauding lawmakers for hammering out a bipartisan deal. Calvin M. Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, says the compromise bill “reflects a carefully balanced approach that incorporates interests of several Democratic senators and maintains important priorities for manufacturers.”

“Updating the outdated, inefficient TSCA will better protect the safety of our families and also advance innovation in our economy,” says Sen. David B. Vitter (R-La.), who introduced S. 697 with Sen. Tom S. Udall (D-N.M.) in March.

Initially, the bill didn’t sit well with other Democrats. But Sens. Jeff A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.) negotiated a compromise with Republicans that addresses a number of concerns activists and some state officials raised about state laws on chemicals. In particular, the newly approved bill would allow states, in certain circumstances, to regulate chemicals while EPA is evaluating the safety of those substances.

“This bipartisan agreement greatly strengthens the ability of states to protect citizens from toxic chemicals when the federal government has failed to do so,” Merkley says.

Senate leaders have yet to decide when to bring the bill to the chamber’s floor for a vote.


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