Thursday, March 13, 2014

House Hearing on Chemicals in Commerce Act Shows Politics in Action, not TSCA Reform

Yesterday, March 12, 2014, the House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee held a hearing on its version of a TSCA reform bill. As noted last week, a discussion draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) was released on February 27th. The bill reflects the "business first" leanings of the House Republican majority, which shouldn't be surprising given how that majority lumped environmental issues with economic ones in naming their subcommittee.

It wasn't difficult to figure out which witnesses had been called by each political party. Some represented various corporations and trade associations of industry, while others represented worker unions and health advocacy organizations. All provided their input on the CICA discussion draft. You can read the full witness list and their written testimony, plus watch the video of their oral testimony at the hearing here. A background document and the full CICA discussion draft are also available. You can read analyses of the bill and hearing here and here. An NGO analysis of the bill can be read here. See my earlier article for other NGO and trade association feedback.

All the usual posturing occurred during the hearing. Industry representatives assured the subcommittee that industry wants the public to believe chemicals are safe. NGOs and health advocates expressed concern that neither CICA nor the Senate's CSIA would adequately protect public health and the environment. House members mimed their party's assigned positions.

If that sounds cynical, it is. But it accurately reflects the lack of seriousness by the House to address the problem. TSCA is broken. Everyone agrees that TSCA is broken. They may differ on how much and how best to proceed, but they agree that reforming TSCA is necessary, and that it should be done now. The Senate's Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) at least tried to keep the main focus on fixing the inherent problems with the severely outdated and often ineffective existing chemical law. While the CSIA includes none of the pre-market testing originally advocated by health and environmental advocates, it does give EPA some additional flexibility and authority to ask for new data. The Senate's CSIA isn't perfect, but most stakeholders agree that it is a step in the right direction. And it's workable.

In contrast, the House's CICA doesn't even bother to pretend that its goal is to assure chemical safety. It's clear that the House CICA has three goals.

1) Roll back the very few industry concessions in the already industry-friendly Senate CSIA.

2) Further undermine EPA's authority to take action to protect human health and the environment.

3) Throw red meat to the most rabid supporters of the Republican party.

So cynical, yes. And that is a shame. The House held a series of hearings to "collect information on TSCA," so looked like it was taking this issue seriously. As shocking as it was to see the lack of knowledge by many members of the committee on issues in which it claims oversight, the draft bill that resulted from all those hearings is even more disturbing. It reflects an out-of-control partisan attack on the health and safety of all Americans. As such, industry should be rejecting CICA rather than giving it lip service. If industry wants to avoid the patchwork of state bills regulating chemicals, the renewed efforts by NGOs to enact those state and local bills, and the absolute loss of public faith in industry veracity, then industry should be telling the majority that runs the House to issue a new version of CICA more in line with the modified CSIA currently being negotiated in the Senate.

If TSCA isn't modernized this year, it won't be modernized. Ever. It's time for the House to stop playing political games and start doing their job. This is about public safety, not making political points.