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Policy

House Passes Bipartisan Chemicals Regulation Reform Bill

Congress: Legislation would modernize 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act

by Britt E. Erickson
June 24, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 26

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Credit: U.S. Congress
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Credit: U.S. Congress

In a strong bipartisan showing, the U.S. House of Representatives on June 23 passed legislation that would overhaul how commercial chemicals are regulated. Lawmakers approved the bill, which would update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), voting 398-1.

The proposed TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576) would change how thousands of chemicals that are already on the market are controlled. It would, however, leave in place existing rules for approving new substances.

It also would give the Environmental Protection Agency sweeping new authority to ask chemical makers for safety data if the agency finds a substance poses a risk to human health or the environment. But some environmental activists are questioning whether EPA can determine that a chemical poses a risk if it lacks safety data.

H.R. 2576, introduced by Rep. John M. Shimkus (R-Ill.), is more narrowly targeted than a Senate bill to revise TSCA (S. 697), introduced by Sens. David B. Vitter (R-La.) and Tom S. Udall (D-N.M.). Notably, the House bill omits controversial provisions found in S. 697 that would override state chemical laws. Preemption of these state statutes, which has been a goal of the chemical industry, remains a sticking point that the House and Senate will have to hash out.

The chemical sector is applauding passage of H.R. 2576 and urging the Senate to act quickly. “Congress can deliver a much-needed update to TSCA as well as a major environmental and commercial policy accomplishment to the President’s desk for his signature this year,” says Calvin M. Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group.

Many environmental groups back TSCA reform, but they are particularly worried about a provision in the House bill that would allow manufacturers to pay for EPA safety reviews of chemicals that industry selects. This would shift the agency away from reviewing the riskiest substances on the market, activists argue. “It tips much too far in favor of an industry in serious need of regulation,” says Ken Cook, president and cofounder of the Environmental Working Group.

The Senate is expected to vote on S. 697 in coming weeks.

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