The prospects for passing legislation to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) have improved considerably with the approval of S. 697, the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act,” by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In a 15-5 vote, the Senate panel passed a compromise version of the legislation, called a “manager’s amendment,” following weeks of negotiation which won over the support of Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-CO), and Cory Booker (D-NJ). Lawmakers announced late yesterday that they had reached an agreement on changes to the bill, which was originally introduced in March by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA). According to E&E Daily and the Huffington Post, the compromise changes include:
- State preemption: States can regulate specific chemicals when EPA is in the process of making a safety determination, but new restrictions are preempted if EPA “defines the scope of the uses of a chemical.” If EPA fails to meet deadlines for safety determinations or state waiver requests, states automatically receive a waiver keeping state law in effect. States will also be allowed to impose chemical disclosure requirements and keep existing chemical bans effective before August 1, 2015 (previously January 1, 2015).
- State co-enforcement: States will continue to be able to co-enforce federal laws; penalties may not be collected for the same offense.
- Prioritization standards: Chemicals are to be designated as high priority if they present “significant” hazard and exposure, instead of “high” hazard and “widespread” exposure. The designation of a chemical as low priority will be subject to a 90-day comment period.
- Persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals: EPA will be required to prioritize PBT chemicals for review from the current TSCA Work Plan list.
- Requested assessments: Companies can request the assessment of a particular chemical, but EPA is not required to count such assessments towards the agency’s annual quota of assessments. These requested assessments would have no effect on state laws until a final regulatory action is taken by EPA. A limit on requested assessments relative to agency-initiated assessments will also be imposed.
- Product imports: The compromise bill removed a section making it more difficult for EPA to regulate articles under the safety evaluation process.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who had introduced a competing TSCA reform proposal, offered several amendments in Committee, but none attracted sufficient votes to pass. While vowing to continue lobbying for her amendments – which would give states more power, set tighter deadlines, and require EPA to target asbestos and track and act on local disease clusters, etc. – Sen. Boxer praised the compromises, saying, “We got rid of a horrible bill. We have a bill that makes progress.” Most environmental and health advocacy groups have also applauded the Senate panel’s work, calling it “an important milestone,” but are continuing to call for changes.
The bill is expected to proceed to the full Senate in the coming weeks.