The White House has announced that on Wednesday, June 22, President Obama will sign into law the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act,” the long-awaited update to the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Senate passed the Lautenberg Act by voice vote on June 6, two weeks after the House approved the negotiated legislation. Both houses of Congress approved different versions of the bill in 2015, but were unable to reach a deal to reconcile the legislation until last month.
The bipartisan bill gives EPA new authority to regulate chemicals based on impacts to health and the environment, not cost, and order testing via order rather than rulemaking. Existing chemicals in commerce will be screened and prioritized for risk assessment, and industry will be allowed to apply for fee-funded expedited assessments. Fees for new and existing chemicals will be collected into a “TSCA Implementation Fund” to defray about 25% (initially $25 million annually) of the program cost. For new chemicals, EPA will be required to make an affirmative safety finding that the substance is not likely to present an unreasonable risk. The Lautenberg Act also provides for an “Inventory reset” under Section 8 of TSCA, requiring industry to report to EPA which Inventory chemicals they have manufactured or imported in the previous ten years. Most claims of Confidential Business Information (CBI), which allow companies to avoid disclosing certain information to EPA, will now have to be substantiated when made and will expire after ten years unless re-substantiated. EPA will be required to review and approve or deny past CBI claims for chemical identities on the Inventory.
The preemption of state and local laws was a major sticking point throughout TSCA reform negotiations, resulting in a complicated system of limited preemption. Generally, restrictions by states will not be preempted until EPA takes action on a particular substance, while reporting, monitoring, and disclosure requirements will not be affected. State actions in effect by April 22, 2016, or actions taken under a law in effect on August 31, 2003, will not be preempted. The Act also provides for a process under which states can seek waivers from preemption.
After the Lautenberg Act is signed into law, EPA will soon face a variety of tough implementation challenges. Within the first six months, EPA must designate ten chemicals from the Work Plan for risk assessment. Within the first year, EPA must develop guidance for industry-initiated risk evaluations and rules for Inventory reset reporting, prioritization of chemicals, and risk evaluation process.
Whether EPA will receive adequate funding from Congress to achieve all these goals remains to be seen; the Lautenberg Act does not permit EPA to assess fees unless Congress has appropriated at least the amount appropriated for the “Chemical Risk Review and Reduction” program project in FY 2014. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out its appropriations bill for FY 2017, which included language to meet that requirement.