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Testimony begins on chemical safety overhaul plan

By: Jeremy Carroll

November 15, 2013

While the Chemical Safety Improvement Act represents a bipartisan effort to reform the lamented Toxic Substances Control Act, the current bill has flaws, a representative from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Jim Jones, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the Senate compromise could be tweaked.

“I think it needs some improvement,” Jones testified at a House subcommittee meeting on the bill. “There are aspects that are moving in the right direction and there are some that are not.”

Jones was one of a handful of witnesses in front of the House subcommittee on Environment and the Economy Nov. 13, which was examining Senate Bill 1009 that aims to update the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act.

The bill was introduced earlier this year by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and has 25 co-sponsors in the Senate. It has not been voted on in either chamber. The reform would require new tests for the 85,000 chemicals already on the U.S. market and force the EPA to affirm the safety of any new chemical before it’s introduced into the marketplace, something that’s not currently done. EPA also would be required to make more information available to the public.

The bill also would preempt state laws on various chemical issues and allow EPA to set its own deadlines to accomplish testing.

The bill is a compromise backed by the American Alliance for Innovation, which includes a variety of plastics and plastics-related trade groups, including the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., the American Chemistry Council, Plastics Pipe Institute and the Styrene Information and Research Center.

Jones said among the improvements the agency would like to see include “meaningful deadlines on the agency” regarding testing, along with a “balanced approach” when talking about preemption of state laws. He said the agency would like to see a sustained source of funding beyond what it receives now to accomplish the goals of the legislation, if it is enacted.

Cal Dooley, ACC’s CEO told the panel that reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act appeared to be unachievable previously, but there was real breakthrough with the introduction of CSIA and the compromise brokered between Vitter and Lautenberg. That deal represents a serious effort to reform chemical regulation, he said.

“We are hopeful that with continued leadership from this committee and from bipartisan leaders in the Senate we can seize this truly unique opportunity to pass legislation that is important to the lives of American families and the success of American manufacturers,” he said.

Richard Denison, senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, testified that there are issues with the proposal, but they should not derail the legislation.

“It’s both a promising start, but far from perfect,” he said. “I’m convinced the problems can be addressed.”

This was the fourth hearing the House subcommittee on Environment and the Economy has held on updating the Toxic Substances Control Act.