Reform of Chemical Control laws has been a hot topic worldwide for the last few years. Europe passed a new law called REACH that requires registration, evaluation, and authorization of all chemicals - both new ones and all the ones already existing on the European inventory. Canada is in the middle of a prioritization review of all the chemicals on its inventory of existing substances. And the US has been using the existing Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and voluntary programs to evaluate at least the highest volume chemicals produced in the US.
In addition, last year Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Represenatives Hilda Solis (D-CA)and Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced the Kid Safe Chemical Act (KSCA), which quickly died in committee. But even with a Democratic President and Congress, there has been some question of whether the KSCA or some other form of TSCA chemical control law reform will get any priority in this Congress either. The economic crisis and other urgent issues will take up all their time, many say.
Senator Lautenberg, however, wants to assure stakeholders that he still expects to introduce legislation in the coming weeks. “The senator intends to push for and hold hearings on the need for TSCA reform, as well as reintroduce the Kid Safe Chemicals Act (KSCA). He also intends to move KSCA through [the Senate environment committee] and the Congress this session,” Lautenberg’s office said in a Jan. 30 statement. While other issues may take center stage in the press, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) late last month added EPA’s chemical assessment program to its list of government programs at high risk of waste, fraud and abuse. The GAO’s listing prompted calls from environmentalists for Congress to pass TSCA reform legislation. But efforts by Lautenberg and environmentalists to quickly move the bill may not be enough, as the chemical industry is lobbying key congressional Democrats not to introduce the bill. The complaints are two-fold: first, that there is also the likelihood of climate change legislation being introduced, which would give industry too much to handle at once; and second, that the KSCA as currently written would not be an effective mechanism by which to reform TSCA. Many argue that TSCA is fine as is, but that EPA just has not used their current authority effectively.
So questions remain about whether chemical control in the US will be reformed or not this session of Congress. Some congressional staffers suggest that the bill is “a non-starter” and that it is “not doable.” They say that industry has made its point and that the proponents of the Lautenberg bill “clearly understand that it’s not a viable option.” So we may get some hearings and statements being made this year, but no substantive movement on the congressional agenda until 2010. Or maybe we will all be surprised.