Today, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Edward Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight, introduced a new proposal to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The “Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act” is named after Alan Reinstein, who died in 2006 of asbestos exposure-caused mesothelioma, and Trevor Schaefer, a brain cancer survivor and advocate for safety from environmental and chemical exposures. The bill aims to strengthen the standard EPA uses to assess chemical safety; increase the speed at which the agency conducts chemical assessments; and preserve the states’ ability to regulate chemicals at the state level and co-enforce federal law.
The introduction comes just two days after the debut of the industry-supported “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA). In a statement responding to the Udall-Vitter proposal, Sen. Boxer said, “It is clear that in its present form, this bill fails to provide the protections needed and is worse than current law.”
The text of the Boxer-Markey bill has not yet been made publicly available, but a one-page summary [PDF] has been released, and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has also posted a comparison between the Boxer-Markey and Udall-Vitter proposal. Highlights of the Boxer-Markey plan include:
- Stronger standard for chemical safety: The bill will adopt a heightened safety standard for EPA’s chemical safety assessment, using the “reasonable certainty of no harm” threshold currently used in reviewing pesticide safety.
- Expedited reviews for asbestos and persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals: The bill will provide for an “expedited safety review” process to speed safety assessments (and subsequent regulations) for asbestos and the class of chemicals known as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT).
- State preemption and co-enforcement: States would not be preempted from enacting and enforcing their own restrictions on chemicals, or from co-enforcing federal requirements.
- Risk of chemical spills: In prioritizing chemicals for assessment, EPA would be required to consider the risk of unplanned releases to the environment, like last year’s spill of the coal cleaning chemical MCHM in West Virginia’s Elk River.
- Industry user fees: According to the EWG, Boxer-Markey will require industry “to provide the funding necessary to do timely safety reviews.”
Along with the Boxer-Markey proposal, the early response to the Udall-Vitter plan from other stakeholders has coalesced around a few main points, particularly insistence on preserving state authority and co-enforcement. In addition, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), a co-sponsor of the Udall-Vitter bill, is advocating [PDF] for the public review of EPA’s designations of chemicals as “low priority.” Environmental and public health groups have sharply criticized the bipartisan proposal, but some are still optimistic that further negotiations could resolve the bill’s problems.