State officials urge Congressional action on chemical regulation bill

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WASHINGTON — Ten attorneys general have come out in support of the chemical regulation reform bill that is so far languishing in committee.

Democratic and Republican Attorneys General from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Utah sent a letter to Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-La.) of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works asking the committee to ”move expeditiously to implement” the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA – S 1009).

One of the biggest bones of contention on the bill that would make sweeping changes to the much maligned 1970s-era Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has been concerns, particularly from the California delegation, that strict state chemical regulation laws would be preempted by a — potentially weaker — federal one. The attorneys general write that, as written, CSIA would not endanger states’ clean-water, pollution control and remediation or other standards.

“[T]he CSIA balances States’ needs to protect the health of their citizens and resources with the need to create a coherent and cohesive regulatory framework for chemical manufacturers,” the letter says. “The preemption provisions in CSIA only impact State chemical regulations that regulate specific chemicals and that directly relate to chemical manufacturing, processing, or use. Furthermore, the CSIA gives States direct routes to participate in the process of identifying and evaluating chemical safety, including requests to prioritize specific chemicals and to re-prioritize a chemical based on new information.”

Under the bill, states also would be able to ask for a waiver in the event that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessments do not meet previously established state standards.

In the vacuum of what most consider the ineffective TSCA law, some states have developed strict chemical regulation laws of their own, California being the most notable, for maintaining its own list of potentially harmful chemicals since 1985 under Proposition 65.

The holdup over preemption concerns is beginning to endanger the bill’s chances of being passed before lawmakers leave Washington for off-year election campaigning, though lobbyists and industry groups remain hopeful for a productive summer.

“While the congressional calendar presents challenges, we remain encouraged by the commitment of both Chairman Shimkus and Senators Udall and Vitter to advance reform,” said the American Chemistry Council. “With good-faith efforts from committee Democrats to develop a workable consensus, we believe there may still be opportunities to pass meaningful reform this year.”

On the House side, partisan bickering has slowed the progress of an equivalent bill, penned by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee that oversees chemical regulation.

Committee Democrats cried foul, saying they were shut out of the process when the bill was being drafted but Shimkus at an April hearing said he had asked for Democratic input and had received none. While committee Democrats say they have since submitted “detailed feedback,” including specific language they want included in the measure, but that Republicans are not interested in negotiating. Shimkus staffers would not comment on the proposed changes, saying only that the congressman’s door was open to any bipartisan effort to move forward with TSCA reform this session.