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Industry backs newest proposal to update chemical regulations

By: Gayle S. Putrich

March 5, 2014

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is the latest member of Congress to step up to the plate to take a swing at chemical regulation reform, releasing a "discussion draft" of his bill, the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) to mixed reaction from industry and environmental groups alike.

The effort to update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) would grant the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authority to designate chemicals as low or high priority, with high-priority chemicals getting a "rigorous scientific examination." The bill would let states take action on specific chemicals but preempt state rules when EPA makes a specific ruling on the safety of a chemical.

"It would create a common sense prioritization and evaluation program for all existing chemicals in commerce and establish a uniform federal standard to help better facilitate interstate commerce in chemicals and other downstream U.S. manufactured goods," said a House Energy and Commerce news release on the measure, which reads as just as much a commerce bill as it is a chemical regulation effort.

Shimkus said he plans to hold two hearings on the proposed bill, on top of the five his Environment and Economy Subcommittee has already held on what does and doesn't work well under TSCA.

"This discussion draft begins the legislative phase of the committee's work and I am hopeful we can get something across the finish line with strong bipartisan support," he said.

The draft bill already has the support of several plastics-related industry groups, ranging from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to the American Chemistry Council.

"The balanced approach taken in the draft Chemicals in Commerce Act will provide Americans with more confidence in the safety of chemicals, while at the same time encouraging innovation, economic growth and job creation by U.S. manufacturers," said ACC CEO Cal Dooley in a news release.

Critics are already lining up as well, saying the bill kowtows to industry without protecting humans or the environment, including the Center for Environmental Health, the Environmental Working Group, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families initiative.

"The draft ignores nearly every recommendation for reform made by health professionals, environmental experts, and advocates for families dealing with cancer, autism, infertility and other health problems linked to chemical exposure, but it adopts the wish list of oil and chemical companies like Dow and ExxonMobil," said Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, via email.

The House bill would be a companion to the Senate's Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), proposed last May as a compromise bill after more than a decade of disagreements on revamping TSCA. While the Senate measure has drawn more than 25 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, it remains parked in committee.