Thursday, July 26, 2012

Senate Passes Safe Chemicals Act out of Committee

The Senate committee charged with reforming the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has voted to send the bill proposed by Senator Frank Lautenberg to the full Senate for open debate and a possible vote. As expected after Tuesday's contentious hearing, the committee vote split along party lines with the ten Democrats voting for it and the eight Republicans voting against it.

Republicans argued that the vote on the bill introduced one and a half years ago was premature, and that there had not been time for the "bipartisan" discussions to reach fruition. Democrats countered that the bill had been substantially revised many times following dozens of hearings, stakeholder meetings, and private consultations with the Republican members. Senators Boxer and Lautenberg felt that it was important to get everyone's views out in the open so that their constituents could make judgments on whether to support the bill.

Indeed, the committee issued a 174-page Amendment that documents all of the changes to the original bill (S.847). They also issued a short summary highlighting the key changes.

Many of the changes incorporate the concerns of industry and the Republican minority. For example, the original bill introduced in 2005 would have required all chemical manufacturers to undertake a REACH-style data development in which all chemicals would need a substantial amount of health and safety data to be submitted prior to manufacture or in order to keep existing chemicals on the market. To incorporate industry concerns, the version passed by the committee yesterday "better focuses resources on priority chemicals" while continuing to require EPA to do most of the work of determining if a chemical is not safe. Existing chemicals would be evaluated in batches and screened through a prioritization process, then undergo safety determinations in order of priority.

The changes also require new information and testing "only when necessary." Data could be provided through means other than new testing when appropriate and defensible, for example, using QSARs, read-across, and non-animal studies.

Confidential business information (CBI) provisions have also been revamped to address industry concerns, and the new bill "better balances protection" of CBI versus the public's right to know about the chemicals to which they may be exposed.

As noted yesterday, it is highly unlikely that the Safe Chemicals Act will ever be passed by the Senate during this session of Congress, and even if it did come to a vote would likely never meet the 60-vote supermajority needed to even get to the actual up or down vote on the bill itself. And even if it somehow got that far, the House is highly unlikely to consider any bill at all. Facing this uphill battle the sponsors of the bill (Lautenberg and 21-cosponsors, all Democrats) felt it necessary to move the bill forward to all open expression of the conflicting views.

Information on the bill can be reviewed on the Thomas Library of Congress site.

No comments: