Thursday, April 1, 2010

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition Rallies Outside Industry Chemicals Conference in Baltimore

A coalition called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families rallied outside a hotel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor where chemical industry officials were holding a conference this week. A full report in the Baltimore Sun can be read here.

The organization, which is a coalition of environmental, health, children's, worker, and public advocacy groups, has been pressing hard for TSCA chemical reform. The conference, called GlobalChem, heard speakers from industry, NGOs, and even the Executive Director of the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) on topics ranging from REACH to international regulations. But mostly it focused on TSCA reform and what industry might expect as Senator Lautenberg moves towards reintroduction of his Kid Safe Chemicals Act.

While Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families was outside, one of the major founders of the coalition, Richard Denison of Environmental Defense Fund, was inside as an invited speaker. Denison, well known to the industry for his very active work on the HPV Challenge program, provided a somewhat different perspective than the industry representatives present. He noted that even 5 years after the voluntary HPV program was "complete," only 60% of the chemicals had actually had full data dossiers provided.

As I mentioned yesterday, there seems to be quite a bit of distance in the details between what the NGOs want to see in a new law and what industry sees. More on this in upcoming days.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

TSCA Bill to be Introduced, But Will it Pass?

There seems to be a growing resignation among stakeholders that the long awaited reintroduction of the Kid Safe Chemical Act to update the old Toxic Substances Control Act, while likely to happen soon, may not get through the legislative process in time to be passed in this Congress.

Word from Senator Lautenberg's office is that he still plans to reintroduce the bill within the next few weeks. With Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, that seems like a likely date, especially since then Vice-President Al Gore introduced the High Production Volume (HPV) Chemical Challenge on that date in 1998. It is likely that the Lautenberg bill, and the mirror bill to be introduced by Congressman Rush in the House, will lean toward substantial testing requirements reminiscent of Europe's REACH program. Or not. There seems to be no one who really knows for sure.

And that in itself may be the reason it can't be passed this year. While there has been a great deal of agreement at the 30,000 foot level, there is a great deal of differences once one gets down into the details. NGOs would like industry to have to provide some base set of data on every single chemical on the TSCA Inventory (approximately 85,000). That is what REACH is doing now in Europe. Industry believes that EPA should somehow prioritize chemicals and then ask for specific data for that subset of specific chemicals that have the highest priority. And that is a fundamental difference that could take some substantial time to resolve, especially given the widely partisan nature of Congress at the moment.

So, it seems more and more likely that the bill will be a starting point for intense discussions between Congress, industry, NGOs, and other stakeholders, which will occur throughout the rest of this year. Then the potentially highly revised bill would have to be reintroduced (for the 4th time) in the next session of Congress. And given the likelihood that the November elections will significantly alter the balance of power in Congress, the delay could mean a lot.

Or not. :)

More to come.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is TSCA Chemical Control Reform Ever Going to Happen?

Last year at this time Senator Lautenberg intimated that a new Kid Safe bill that reforms the 34 year old Toxic Substances Control Act was "imminent." The same word has been used many times since then, and still no bill has been introduced, though several House and Senate hearings have been held in recent months.

The latest is that the bill will be introduced by Senator Lautenberg sometime after the Congressional recess that starts today and runs through April 9th. Congressman Rush will introduce a mirror bill in the House. Given the current timing, it seems possible that the bill might be held a couple of more weeks for an April 22nd (Earth Day) introduction.

But introduction of the bill doesn't mean it will pass this year. Already much of Congress has shifted into campaign mode for the November elections, and with the likelihood of significant Republican seat gains in both houses, there seems to be little incentive for the minority party to speed things up on TSCA reform. Likewise, many Democrats are wary of any effort that might be negatively impact their reelection campaigns. In recent remarks to the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), the head of the EPA toxics office, Steve Owens, suggested that it was "unlikely" that much would happen on any bill now introduced, even though both industry and advocacy groups are pushing for "modernization" of TSCA.

More info tomorrow!