Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Insight on Chemical Control Reform

A week ago I posted Obama Appointments May Affect Chemical Law Reform, which suggested President Obama's appointments might impact Congressional attempts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Insiders suggest that of those names I mentioned, the biggest impact on TSCA reform is likely to be from the switch in chairmanship of the House Environment and Commerce Committee to California Congressman Henry Waxman. As suggested by the name of the TSCA reform bill introduced in 2008 (The Kid Safe Chemical Act), the overall focus for reform legislation is on chemicals in products, with emphasis on questions of safety to children and other vulnerable groups. Members of Waxman's committee have indicated that they likely won't get to TSCA reform until later in the year because the committee also has jurisdiction over health care and climate change, two issues which the Obama Administration have given high priority. But committee staffers are starting to think about it and fully expect to act.

Clearly people on the committee feel that TSCA is a "broken statute" and needs to be rewritten from the ground up. Committee staffers have suggested that if TSCA worked properly then they wouldn't have had to address issues such as phthalates through other legislation like the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which passed in 2008. It is also likely that the committee would also want to cover uncertainies with newly emerging activities in nanotechnology. Since Waxman co-authored the Kid Safe Chemicals Act and now chairs the relevant House committee, it is almost a given that a bill will be passed through to the House for vote. The new version to be introduced will likely include additional enforcement responsibilities, similar to what was inserted in the Consumer Product Safety Improvment Act.

I'll keep posting updates on this blog as they become available.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Whoa - Not so Fast...Environmental Confirmations Held Up

The confirmation of President Obama's key environmental nominees - EPA Administrator-designate Lisa Jackson and White House Council of Environmental Quality Chair-designate Nancy Sutley - have been put on temporary hold by Republican Senators. The main concern is whether whether their authority would be superseded by Carol Browner, President Obama's Climate and Energy Policy Advisor in the White House.

Browner's position does not require Congressional confirmation, and many Republicans remember her strong pro-environment record when she herself served as EPA Administrator during the Bill Clinton Administration. During their confirmation hearings, Senators from both parties had queried Jackson and Sutley, as well as Energy Secretary-designate Steven Chu, about their ability to effectively do their jobs given the presence of Browner in the newly created White House advisory role. Democrats appeared to be convinced, but a spokesman for Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) has indicated that the Senator asked for Jackson's name to be taken off the list of candidates slated for fast confirmation.

The hold, which is Senate prerogative, isn't likely to be anything more than a temporary glitch, however, as Jackson, Sutley and Chu are all expected to be confirmed easily.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama Sworn in as 44th President of the United States

January 20, 2009. The bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. It seems appropriate that another Illinois resident, in particular one with African-Ameican heritage, has become President in this historic year.

Much is in need of doing. In his speech, President Obama said "the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met." He called upon us all to pitch in to do our part to find solutions to those challenges. To put behind the politics of the small, to embrace a new way of thinking...thinking that seeks solutions for the good of all Americans, not just the like-minded few.

Regarding the role of science in policy, he said "We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do."

The politics he professes, and we all must ensure, is "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."

Best wishes, President Obama. May we all reach the heights to which you believe we can soar.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama Appointments May Affect Chemical Law Reform

I have written before on attempts to reform the way we manage chemicals in the United States (Inorganic chemicals and Montebello, now called ChAMP), as well as in Europe (REACH). With a new Congress and a new President, and with many pressures from all sides, it is likely that there will be renewed efforts to pass a comprehensive reform of the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) in 2009. But it is not guaranteed.

One factor that may affect the likelihood of TSCA reform this year is the move by several House and Senate members to the new Administration. The House version of the Kid Safe Chemical Act bill (KSCA) (H.R.6100) was introduced in 2008 by Hilda Solis and Henry Waxman. Congresswoman Solis has been tapped by President Obama to be his Secretary of Labor. Her successor will be selected by special election in California's 32nd Congressional District. Because the special election takes up to 4 months to complete, and Solis' successor will be a freshman Congressperson, it is unclear whether they would be in a position to reintroduce the bill in the 111th Congress. Similarly, Congressman Waxman has taken over the chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, previously long led for the Democrats by Michigan Congressman John Dingell. In his new position, Waxman seems intent on working with the many other California Democrats in leadership positions, as well as the Obama Administration, to give greater emphasis to energy and climate change related issues. Of course, the bill could be reintroduced by anyone in the House.

In the Senate, New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg (along with Waxman in the House) was the leader behind the original KSCA introduced first in 2005 and reintroduced it as S.3040 in 2008. As of the fall of 2008 the Senate Committee on Environment and Public works, on which Lautenberg serves and California Senator Boxer Chairs, were indicating that they planned to begin hearings on KSCA/TSCA reform this spring. Certainly there will be several issues competing for resources, but with REACH and the Canadian prioritization programs applying pressure, and the EPA focusing on enhancing the current ChAMP program, there will be incentive from all sides to find a workable alternative to the current TSCA program here in the states.