Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No TSCA Chemical Reform This Year - What About Next Year?

The TSCA reform proposals put forth in bills by the Democratically controlled House and Senate in 2010 are now in the "didn't get to it" bin for the few weeks left in the current Congressional session.  In January the current minority party becomes the majority in the House, and closes the gap in the Senate.  So the question on everyone's mind (well, everyone that is a stakeholder interested in reform/modernization of the 34-year old TSCA law) is "What will happen in 2011?"

Or maybe 2012?

Because of the way Congress works any TSCA reform bills will need to be reintroduced in the next Congress before any action can be taken.  The House bill was introduced this past year by Democrats Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush, both of whom won reelection but will no longer be chairing the full committee and subcommittee, respectively, responsible for shepherding the law through the House.  As of this writing the Republican party had not yet determined who would take over the chairmanships of the key committee, but the contenders have been fairly public about their priorities and TSCA reform isn't necessarily at the top of their list.  The Senate will remain in Democratic control, though perhaps with a bit less leeway than this past Congress.  Senator Lautenberg has been passionate about TSCA reform (Kid Safe Chemical Act/Safe Chemical Act), but health and age may (or may not) limit his future influence.

Industry remains dedicated to modernizing TSCA, in large part because one federal law is easier to handle than 50 (or more) state, regional, and local laws.  With a likely more industry-friendly chairmanship in the House, this might be a good opportunity to get a new law passed that will keep what industry considers to be "what works" of the old law while enhancing protections for human health and the environment.  But different industry groups differ on how to go about doing that.

The advocacy community remains adamant that TSCA is outdated, and in fact never really worked well at all from a health protection point of view.  They continue to push for a new law, both through renewed activism at the state level and by putting pressure on industry to come up with "concrete proposals" for a revised law.

As is normal for situations in which party control of one or both houses of Congress changes, there will be time needed to "staff up" the committees, "feel out" the likelihood of compromise by various stakeholders, and "learn something" from ongoing international activities like the Canadian chemical management plan and Europe's REACH registration.  So we should expect not to see much overt action for at least the first six to 10 months of this next Congress (though there may be some behind the scenes wrangling going on).  That suggests that TSCA reform bills might not hit the floor until late 2011 or even into 2012.  That said, with a likely contentious presidential election year going on in 2012, there are concerns among many that TSCA reform might be a priority for a future time.

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