Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is the Lautenberg Safe Chemicals Act A Jump Start on Serious Discussions About TSCA Reform?

As I noted last week, Senator Frank Lautenberg has introduced the 2011 version of his Safe Chemicals Act.  The question at that time was whether the bill would end up in the same place as the 2010 bill, that is, nowhere.  Some, but not all, industry organizations found positive changes made in the bill.  Now at least one NGO is hoping that the changes will jump start serious discussions and engage industry in finding a path forward for what all parties agree is a need to reform the 35 year old Toxic Substances Control Act.

Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has expressed his hope that "this bill, with its enhancements, will push the reset button on the stalled discussion over TSCA reform, and bring all of the parties to the table for an honest dialogue on how we can finally bring this vital law into the modern era."  He further states:
It is in everyone’s interest – health advocates and industry alike – to restore market, consumer and public confidence in the safety of chemicals.

Denison offers the following highlights of the changes made in the new bill:
  • It establishes an orderly process that categorizes chemicals into high-, some- and low-concern classes and directs those chemicals along specific paths of action.
  • It requires expedited action be taken to reduce exposure to chemicals of high concern – those that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) to which people are exposed.
  • It calls for EPA to identify and prioritize chemicals requiring safety determinations, and tie the pace of that activity to EPA’s capacity to expeditiously make these needed determinations.
  • It clarifies that EPA would tailor minimum data requirements to different types or classes of chemicals, while still ensuring that basic safety information is provided in a timely manner for all chemicals.
  • It clarifies that States receiving confidential business information (CBI) must have an agreement in place to ensure the information is kept confidential.
  • It ensures that State governments have a right to take actions that are different from or in addition to those under TSCA, unless compliance with both the TSCA and the State requirement or standard is impossible.
He has even put together a handy table providing a "side-by-side" comparison of the 2010 and 2011 versions of the bill.

So will this bill stimulate some honest discussion? While Denison and others hope so, it seems unlikely in this divided Congress with a critical presidential and congressional election already looming in the minds of incumbents and contenders alike.  Especially since there is a good chance the Senate will switch parties next year.  Still, since all parties agree that change is needed, it will be interesting to see if they put in a serious effort or just give it lip service.

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