Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Will the November Elections "Reform" TSCA Chemical Reform?

As anyone reading my posts on this site knows already, the US Congress has introduced bills in the House and Senate to reform/modernize TSCA, the 34 year old Toxic Substances Control Act. But those following the process also know that this year is a mid-term election year and that the minority party - the Republicans - are expected to make substantial gains in the number of seats they hold. Some believe that the Republican party will gain the majority in either the House or Senate, or both.

So what does this mean for TSCA reform?

It could mean a lot. The Democratic majority in key committees is led by very environmentally minded leadership from California - Barbara Boxer for the Senate EPW committee and Henry Waxman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey has also taken the lead in the Senate as chairman of the relevant subcommittee in Boxer's EPW committee. A Republican takeover would put significantly less environmentally and health-aware chairs in place. Even significant gains in seats would shift the balance of power more into the Republican view, which tends to put more emphasis on industry than would the Democratic view.

So would Republican gains kill TSCA reform? No. At least, probably not. Industry is generally in agreement that modernization of TSCA is necessary, primarily because industry would rather deal with one federal-level law than a hodgepodge of 50 state laws (plus a few regional rules tossed in to further complicate compliance).

So while some sort of TSCA reform in 2011 seems inevitable, most would agree that it will be more industry-friendly than the current bills being offered.

Another major concern is funding of EPA. No matter what the final law looks like, and despite the desire to shift the burden of proof onto industry, it is clear that EPA will have much more work to do with the updated regulations. In short, much more information means much more review. In the EU, REACH created an entirely new agency to do the work. In the US, EPA has struggled with reduced funding for many years, and the current economic situation most assuredly will limit any new funding to deal with new mandates.

So what will the final Safe Chemicals Act look like? We don't know for sure. But it's a safe bet that after the November elections it will shift from the more environmental/health friendly tone of the current bills to a more industry friendly tone in the final bills likely to be reintroduced in 2011.


Anonymous said...

You're a great (anonymous) reporter on chemical policy but I think your political analysis in this case is simplistic and overly tied to conventional wisdom.

The industry position on TSCA reform is not at all monolithic. There are divisions within the ranks and conflicting needs from within the business community. Some industry industry interests want more than has been proposed. Others want the burden shifted to other sectors.

The "environmental/health friendly tone" you ascribe to the current bills belies the fact that there are many in that camp that find portions of the proposals to be unworkable and incomplete on practical grounds.

Then there's the American people, who overwhelmingly want safer products. Then there's the state chemical policy experiment where every new law has been voted in with overwhelming bipartisan support.

The political landscape for safer chemicals legislation is complicated and will defy conventional partisan analysis in the end.

I agree we'll see substantive TSCA reform, but I find it senseless to speculate around a duality of who it will be friendlier to when that reality doesn't really exist.

The Dake Page said...

Yes, I agree that the industry position is not at all monolithic, nor for that matter is the NGO position or the positions of the individual companies (or of the American people, should they even have an opinion).

Clearly the end user, small enterprise, and specialty manufacturers and formulators have different desires, and concerns, than the larger manufacturers. This is especially true in comparison to the multinational companies who may find that their significant resources and prior data generation for HPV and REACH gives them a distinct competitive advantage.

I also agree that the there are portions of the proposals that are more than acceptable, and patently unacceptable, to both sides (and all the other sides).

I also agree that the situation is much more intricate, intertwined, and complicated than what can be presented in the very limited space I had available. Reading past postings will reveal that I have addressed many issues; the current posting speculates on the influences of a likely change in political power after November.

I don't agree that the speculation is senseless. To ignore the differences of position, even if they are generalities, is to ignore the realities of the debate.

Thanks for commenting.