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said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, thus adding momentum to Congress’ protracted effort to overhaul the nation’s outdated chemical safety laws.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.