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Policy

Overhaul Of U.S. Chemical Law Fizzled

Legislation: Partisan gridlock again hindered reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act

by Britt E. Erickson
December 21, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 49

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Credit: Shutterstock
Momentum to overhaul the U.S. chemical safety law peaked in October, but an unrelated fight in the Senate kept such efforts from advancing.
Credit: Shutterstock
Momentum to overhaul the U.S. chemical safety law peaked in October, but an unrelated fight in the Senate kept such efforts from advancing.

COVER STORY

Overhaul Of U.S. Chemical Law Moved

Chemical manufacturers kept a close eye on Congress this year as efforts to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—a nearly 40-year-old U.S. chemical safety law—got off to a promising start. In March, Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) introduced S. 697, which garnered widespread attention and support. The bill cleared a key Senate committee in April and was passed by the full Senate on Dec. 17.

Initially, many Democrats and environmental groups opposed S. 697 because of provisions that would override state chemical safety laws. 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 addressed a number of the concerns related to state laws on chemicals. The bill currently has the support of at least 60 senators.

The chemical industry and some environmental, public health, animal welfare, wildlife, and labor organizations also support S. 697, which represents more than two years of negotiations.

But a political tussle between two Republican senators brought S. 697 to a standstill in October. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) placed a hold on the bill until the Senate votes on reauthorizing the Land & Water Conservation Fund, an unrelated bill that expired at the end of September. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected to that vote. As the disagreement between the senators continued, prospects of S. 697 passing this year grew dim.

The House of Representatives passed its own slimmed-down version of a TSCA reform bill (H.R. 2576) in June. The Senate cleared S. 697 in December. Now, the two chambers must hash out the differences between the two bills.

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