U.S. Senate passes TSCA reform bill.

Today, the U.S. Senate broke its months-long deadlock on chemical safety reform and approved by voice vote the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” (S. 697). The bill, sponsored by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM), overhauls the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for the first time. We previously discussed aspects of S. 697 upon its March introduction and approval, a month later, by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

After two years of negotiations, the legislation earned the support of 60 Senators of both parties as well as industry and many environmental groups. However, the bill was held up in October by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who were seeking to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund. After that hold was lifted earlier this week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who has long criticized the proposal as too weak, placed another hold on the bill. Sen. Boxer reportedly lifted her hold after being promised that the legislation would be changed in reconciliation to more closely match the bill passed by the House (H.R. 2567) in June, which Sen. Boxer considers more protective.

The main issue legislators will face in reconciliation will likely be whether states will be allowed to impose tighter restrictions than federal standards.

TSCA reform becomes filibuster proof, but floor vote remains elusive.

Last week, the U.S. Senate came closer to passing bipartisan legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) than ever before – but still failed to bring S. 697 to the floor. The bill, co-authored by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA), is still not scheduled for a floor vote, which will have to wait until after Congress returns from its Columbus Day recess.

On Friday, October 2, the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” reached the filibuster-proof level of 60 cosponsors with the added support of Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). The new cosponsors came aboard as part of a deal promising changes to the bill, including increases to the annual funding cap for industry fees from $18 million to $25 million and measures to streamline the state preemption waiver process. At the same time, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who has been a vocal critic of the bill, reportedly agreed to allow S. 697 to advance. On Thursday, a diverse alliance of advocates – including the American Chemistry Council and Environmental Defense Fund – rallied outside the Capitol to support the legislation.

However, the news and optimism was quickly overshadowed by the announcement on Monday, October 5, from Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that they would block consideration of the TSCA reform bill unless reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was added as an amendment.

The LWCF proposal was met with resistance by Senators Udall and James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who are trying to keep out amendments that are not “germane.” In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Democratic leaders pushed for separate floor time to address the reauthorization of LWCF, with the hope of clearing the way for TSCA reform.

Instead, the Senate adjourned today for a week-long recess without voting on the matter, meaning the Udall-Vitter bill could not reach the floor until October 19, at the earliest. Senators Udall and McConnell are said to be working on resolving the LWCF roadblock in order to secure the passage of S. 697, which is expected to pass easily once the procedural hurdles of scheduling a floor vote are surpassed.

Senate leaders urged to consider competing TSCA reform bills.

Since our last update, U.S. lawmakers and other stakeholders have kept busy with competing legislation to reform the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), with the hope of bringing the issue to the Senate floor for debate before the August Congressional recess. The TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2567) passed the House by a vote of 398-1 on June 23, while the Udall-Vitter bill (S. 697), which was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in April, continues to await scheduling for a floor vote.

Last week, Democratic supporters of the bipartisan Udall-Vitter bill urged Senate leaders to bring the bill to a floor vote “as soon as possible.” In a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), thirteen senators lauded S. 697 as “stronger and more comprehensive” than the House bill. The lawmakers criticized the House bill for creating a “virtually unlimited pathway for chemicals favored for review by industry.” The Democrats also took issue with the House bill for failing to overhaul the new chemical review program, provide for an independent funding mechanism, limit animal testing, or mandate EPA to review Confidential Business Information (CBI) claims.

A vocal critic of S. 697, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) joined a group of environmental and public health organizations in lobbying for adoption of the more limited House bill, which she called “the best approach for meaningful TSCA reform.” Led by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, 57 advocacy groups sent a letter [PDF] advocating the House bill as “more appropriate to use as the vehicle for changes as the process moves forward.” The coalition stressed that if the Senate proceeds with S. 697, then the bill’s “primarily failings” – including provisions regarding state preemption and the “low-priority loophole” – must be addressed.

TSCA Modernization Act approved by House Energy and Commerce Committee, floor vote expected by end of June.

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the TSCA Modernization Act (H.R. 2576), setting up the bill for a floor vote currently scheduled for June 23. The vote was 47-0 with one abstention, by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who warned of the legislation’s insufficient protections for state chemical laws. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), the initial author of the proposal, also won adoption of a technical amendment [PDF] making minor changes to the bill’s language.

The preemption of state laws has been a major sticking point in this year’s proposals to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in both the House and Senate. Notwithstanding changes to the TSCA Modernization Act designed to address those concerns, environmental and public health advocacy groups have not dropped their opposition to the bill. In addition, a dozen state Attorneys General representing California, Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland, among other states, sent a letter [PDF] last week to Energy and Commerce Committee leaders Fred Upton (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ). In the letter, the Attorneys General expressed concern that the bill “scales back the states’ police powers and inhibits the traditional state-federal partnership that protects the public from toxic chemicals.” Following promises from Rep. Upton to negotiate new state preemption language before the floor vote, Rep. Eshoo agreed to withdraw her own proposed amendment [PDF] meant to clarify ambiguities on state authority. Rep. Pallone suggested that the state authority issues might be addressed later, although Rep. Shimkus suggested that the scope of the proposed changes may be too disruptive to win sufficient support for passage.

While the Environmental Working Group criticized the bill’s approval, saying the legislation “falls short,” industry groups responded favorably and continue to push for action in the Senate. Over 140 trade groups ranging from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, organized as the American Alliance for Innovation sent a letter [PDF] to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging the swift passage of S. 697, the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act,” which they described as a “balanced compromise.” Yesterday, Bloomberg BNA reported that Sen. McConnell had not scheduled floor time for the bill yet, so it would not reach the floor until July or August.

TSCA reform: NYT calls for more high-priority chemical assessments, House bill formally introduced.

Even while Congress is in recess this week, the cause of reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) continues to progress. Notably, the New York Times Editorial Board is calling for stronger regulation of chemicals by requiring and empowering EPA to evaluate “at least 20 high-priority chemicals a year of its own choosing.” The editorial describes the current TSCA reform proposals in Congress as “a substantial improvement” while simultaneously decrying the bills’ failure to provide “speedy evaluations of the most worrisome chemicals among tens of thousands that have never been tested for safety.” The Times notes the “remarkable feat” of attracting 20 Republican and 20 Democratic co-sponsors to the Senate bill, but criticizes the legislation’s “slow pace of designating high-priority chemicals that require safety assessments.” The editorial also claims that under the House proposal, EPA would be tied up with conducting industry-initiated assessments instead of “chemicals the agency might regard as posing the highest risk.”

Meanwhile, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) formally introduced his bill, the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576), on Tuesday. The legislation’s initial co-sponsors are Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Paul Tonko (D-NY). The bill was unanimously approved by the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy earlier this month.

Rep. Shimkus’ TSCA reform bill receives unanimous, bipartisan approval in House Subcommittee.

The House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy unanimously approved the Toxic Substances Control Act Modernization Act of 2015, a revised version of the bill first introduced by Subcommittee Chair Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) last month to fix key flaws in the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). At today’s markup, Rep. Shimkus said he was “more encouraged than ever” that the outdated law would finally be modernized to meet the public’s expectations and protect human health and the environment.

Yesterday, Rep. Shimkus was joined by new co-sponsors Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee; Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the full Committee, in unveiling changes to the draft bill and calling for the legislation’s passage. The changes addressed some of the most criticized and controversial aspects of the original draft and TSCA reform, including timelines for chemical assessments and federal preemption of state laws.

Rep. Shimkus emphasized that the revised legislation’s basic approach remained the same as in his original draft: empowering EPA to review existing chemicals on the market and “make science-based decisions about whether they pose an unreasonable risk of injury to human health or the environment.” Under the bill, EPA would first assess the safety of a chemical based on hazard and exposure. Cost and other economic factors, including benefits, would not be considered until the second step, when EPA chooses how to regulate the assessed chemical, and a “reasonable transition period” would be required.

Changes from the original bill include:

  • Requires EPA to complete at least 10 chemical assessments per year and to issue risk management rules within 90 days completing an assessment;
  • Creates an accelerated path for assessing persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) substances;
  • Sets different timelines for completing assessments depending on whether they are initiated by EPA or requested by industry;
  • Explicitly preserves private causes of action and existing state laws not in conflict with TSCA, including California’s Proposition 65 and other chemical laws passed before August 1, 2015;
  • Limits the effectiveness of federal preemption of state chemical laws until after EPA makes a final assessment decision;
  • Ensures that user fees are spent only for specific purposes, rather than deposited in the Treasury’s General Fund;
  • Allows EPA to issue five-year “critical use” exemptions for chemicals if the agency’s regulatory requirements would not be cost-effective for a specific use and EPA determines that application of the requirement “would significantly disrupt the national economy, national security, or critical infrastructure.”

While subpanel members were all supportive of the new draft, some remaining issues were highlighted. Rep. Shimkus encouraged a bipartisan effort to amend TSCA section 8, which the current draft does not address.

Both industry and environmental groups have voiced support for the new version of the bill. The American Chemistry Council called it “balanced” and “pragmatic,” while the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition said the changes brought the legislation “within striking distance of meaningful, if limited, reform.”

The bill now proceeds to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, which may schedule a markup as soon as next week.

Udall-Vitter TSCA reform bill gains momentum on the way to Senate floor; House markup expected soon.

The bipartisan Senate bill to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) conforms to the Obama Administration’s principles for TSCA reform, said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, thus adding momentum to Congress’ protracted effort to overhaul the nation’s outdated chemical safety laws. While appearing last week before the Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, McCarthy lauded recent changes to S. 697, which was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week. Responding to questions from Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who introduced the legislation along with Senator David Vitter (R-LA), McCarthy noted that EPA Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Jim Jones had previously identified the proposal’s shortcomings, but “the most recent amendments really addressed those issues.” McCarthy also confirmed that the Udall-Vitter bill would provide EPA with the “tools it needs” to effectively regulate asbestos, saying the agency could designate asbestos as a high priority chemical subject to assessment and regulatory determinations.

After meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to schedule floor time for the bill, Sen. Udall expects S. 697 to reach the Senate floor in June, where it might take three to six weeks to pass as other legislators, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), are likely to offer several amendments. Senators Vitter and Jim Inhofe (R-LA) are also expected to discuss the matter with the Majority Leader soon, although Sen. McConnell’s office says no decision on scheduling has been made yet.

On the House side, Sen. Udall said that the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy would hold a markup on May 18, calling it “a very good sign” that both bodies were “moving in tandem.” The legislation in the House, introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), provides for a more limited overhaul of TSCA and does not currently contain the controversial state preemption provisions found in the Senate bill. Rep. Shimkus told E&E Daily that he is a “big fan” of the compromise amendments made to S. 697 which won over support from Democrats.

Critics of S. 697, including the Environmental Working Group and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition, are more sanguine about Rep. Shimkus’ bill because it does not present the “regulatory void” problem found in S. 697, where states would be prevented from banning chemicals while EPA is in the process of reviewing the substances for potential regulatory action. Other stakeholders are skeptical of the House legislation’s limited scope; E&E Daily reports that Environmental Defense Fund senior scientist Richard Denison said the bill fails to fix “even the core problems of TSCA.” American Chemistry Council spokesperson Ann Kolton told E&E Daily that the industry group “will be ready to support efforts in any way we can be helpful to find the right balance between the two bills.”

If both the House and Senate bills pass, legislators would face significant challenges in reconciling the two proposals in conference committee, particularly regarding the issue of state preemption.

Udall-Vitter TSCA reform bill approved by Senate EPW Committee.

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.

House panel considers Rep. Shimkus’ TSCA reform proposal.

On Tuesday, members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee reviewed the draft proposal introduced last week by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The “TSCA Modernization Act of 2015,” takes a narrower approach to TSCA reform compared to previous proposals, and was crafted with input from members of both parties. The current bill is a “discussion draft,” and Rep. Shimkus announced that he planned to incorporate changes to it before holding a markup on May 14.

Lawmakers and witnesses alike agreed that significant progress had been made in working toward a much-needed update of the nation’s primary chemicals law, which was signed into law in 1976. The Subcommittee heard testimony from officials representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council, and Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, as well as Jim Jones, the EPA Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Industry representatives were generally supportive of the bill, particularly its provisions on testing existing chemicals and improving risk management, and concluded that the sections on state preemption and co-enforcement were appropriate. However, because the proposal does not provide a detailed prioritization plan for screening chemicals or specific timelines for risk assessment, the industry witnesses emphasized the need for Congress and the White House to provide EPA with sufficient resources to accelerate the review of existing chemicals and that the bill should be amended to direct TSCA fee revenue to EPA for implementing TSCA, rather than to the general treasury. The chemical trade group representatives also called for various changes to the proposed TSCA Inventory “reset,” so, e.g., manufacturers would not have to submit new Pre-Manufacture Notices for substances that EPA removes from the Inventory and processors would be subject to reporting requirements on use and exposure data.

Assistant Administrator Jones acknowledged that the proposal complies with the Obama Administration’s principles for TSCA reform, but called for clarity on various issues, including the prioritization process and how EPA should consider cost when evaluating risk. Jones emphasized that funding was a major constraint on how many chemicals EPA can review each year, and even assessments requested and paid for by industry could not be completed within the “unrealistically optimistic” six-month timeframe proposed in the discussion draft. Jones expressed concern that by letting industry request unlimited assessments without a prioritization scheme or required minimum for agency-initiated assessments, the review process could be exploited to “delay evaluations for some of the most dangerous chemicals indefinitely.”

Andy Igrejas, director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition of environmental, public health, labor and other organizations, testified on several positive elements he saw in the draft as well as several areas of concern. According to Igrejas, the bill would not “fix the fundamental barrier in current law to EPA imposing risk management on an unsafe chemical,” because EPA would be required to conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis as to whether a chemical’s risk should be mitigated. Igrejas also testified that the legislation should include a “grandfather clause” for state laws that have “become settled matters of public health policy.” Despite these and other problems, Igrejas said the bill could be fixed with small changes to the language.

Rep. Shimkus introduces narrower TSCA reform “discussion draft” in House.

The House of Representatives has now joined the Senate in moving toward reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy announced that it will hold a legislative hearing on a “discussion draft” of the “TSCA Modernization Act” on April 14. The newly unveiled proposal [PDF] comes from Subcommittee Chair Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), who led last year’s unsuccessful TSCA reform effort in the House. As expected, the draft is significantly narrower in scope than either of the current Senate proposals or Rep. Shimkus’ “Chemicals in Commerce Act,” introduced one year ago.

The draft bill establishes a new system for EPA to evaluate and manage risks for chemicals already on the market, including testing authority, and excises the requirement that EPA take the “least burdensome” regulatory approach to managing risks from harmful chemicals. Instead, when developing a rule to manage a chemical’s risks, the agency would have to consider factors including benefits of the chemical substance, economic consequences, and cost-effectiveness. Under the new system, manufacturers would be able to designate chemicals for risk evaluation, in which case, manufacturers would pay the administrative costs EPA incurs in conducting the evaluation. In addition, the proposal sets timelines for completion of risk evaluations: three years for EPA-selected substances, and 180 days for evaluations initiated by manufacturers. However, there are no provisions for capping the number of evaluations industry can fast-track, or for requiring a minimum number of evaluations to be completed.

The bill would adopt a new safety standard requiring EPA to determine if there is “a reasonable basis for concluding that the combination of hazard from and exposure to the chemical substance under the intended conditions of use has the potential to be high enough to present an unreasonable risk to health or the environment.”

Notably, Rep. Shimkus’ proposal provides a more limited preemption of state laws, overriding them only once EPA has made a final decision on a chemical’s safety. However, there is no grandfather clause exempting California’s Proposition 65, which is included in the legislation from Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA).

Rep. Shimkus’ bill authorizes certain state, local, and tribal government officials and healthcare professionals to access Confidential Business Information (CBI), on request, when responding to an environmental release or, in the case of healthcare professionals, to assist in the diagnosis or treatment of patients. It also proposes a system to renew CBI claims after ten years.

In the Subcommittee’s press release, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the full committee, called the draft “a good starting point.”

Next week’s hearing will include testimony from EPA Assistant Administrator Jim Jones, of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Other panelists have yet to be named.