Friday, March 5, 2010

First Summary of House TSCA Chemical Reform Hearing - And Another Senate Hearing on Tuesday!

Well, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection held its TSCA reform hearing yesterday on the subject of "TSCA and Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic Chemicals: Examining Domestic and International Actions." Full statements for each of the witnesses can be found on the Hearing site here. Meanwhile, the Senate has scheduled yet another hearing for next Tuesday, March 9th (more on that below).

As is the norm, the opening statements by lawmakers followed pretty much the usual partisan talking points, with "sound science," "jobs," and "modernization" being heard from several folks. It was rather humorous to hear virtually all the lawmakers stumble each time they had to say the word "bioaccumulative." But a few interesting points came up in the statements of the witnesses and the Q&A period.

1) The US will likely make a push to ratify three international agreements for which we had signed onto but never officially joined through passage of acts from Congress. The three - the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the Rotterdam Convention, and the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), all deal with identifying and restricting certain PBTs or POPs. Currently the US can be an observer but cannot vote, which means we are not fully able to stand up for US interests versus the interests of the voting members from Europe and worldwide. This will probably have to be done separate from a TSCA reform bill.

2) Risk versus solely hazard was the preferred assessment mechanism from most witnesses, with the possible exception of Linda Greer who felt that we already know enough about the hazard of some substances so should act now rather than "do more study" (which delays action).

3) Should specific PBT chemicals be listed by name in the statute? The answer to this was somewhat unclear although most agreed that there are some obvious chemicals that could be listed (for example, perhaps the "dirty dozen" from the Stockholm Convention). On the other hand, there was also general agreement that there should be a process to identify chemicals that would be consistent with EPA's "risk-based principles" announced by Administrator Jackson last year. The question of the availability of alternatives before listing was rasied, as was the question of whether there were essential uses that could not be replaced. In the end I think the new law will not list specific chemicals but will require EPA to create a list of PBT and other chemicals to either be banned outright (e.g., the dirty dozen) or be (relatively) rapidly assessed further for safety.

4) The PBT criteria won't work for metals. Bill Adams noted that the new chemical law in Europe, REACH, has agreed that the usual criteria for assessing P, B and even T just isn't appropriate for metals since metals all will meet the criteria because, well, because they are metals and not the organic chemicals for which the criteria were designed to assess.

And now, for another hearing: Following on the heels of the House hearing is another Senate hearing scheduled for next Tuesday, March 9th. Senator Lautenberg, who held a TSCA reform hearing only a month ago and since then has been battling stomach cancer, will chair a subcommittee hearing on "Business Perspectives on Reforming U.S. Chemical Safety Laws" in which "leaders of businesses that manufacture or use chemicals to examine their business perspectives on reforming U.S. chemical safety laws." Witnesses are to include:

Kathy Gerwig - Vice President, Workplace Safety and Environmental Stewardship Officer, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.

Charlie Drevna - President, National Petrochemical and Refiners Association

Dr. Neil C. Hawkins Sc.D. - Vice President, EH&S and Sustainability for The Dow Chemical Company

Beth Bosley - Managing Director, Boron Specialties, On behalf of Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates

Howard Williams - Vice President, Construction Specialties, Inc.

Linda Fisher - Vice President, Safety Health and the Environment, DuPont

This is almost certainly going to be the last hearing before Senator Lautenberg introduces the bill, with Representative Rush introducing the companion bill in the House. Expect it this month. That said, there is no guarantee the bill will ever be passed. The previous two versions introduced in 2005 and 2008 died unnoticed in committee. And with some tough elections coming up in 8 months and several other contentious legislation bogging down the calendar, it's possible this Congress may end without a new law in place. However, given that all parties involved agree that TSCA should be "modernized" and the industry in particular does not want to have to deal with a patchwork of state-level regulations, my bet is that the federal-level TSCA reform will actually get done before election day. But as I said, there are no guarantees.

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