Don't expect any modernization of the federal program to manage chemicals this year just six months after reform seemed likely.
TSCA reform is probably not going to be going anywhere, said James Aidala, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who is now a research associate with Washington law firm Bergeson & Campbell PC.
There are not going to be any amendments at all, let alone major amendments of the 35-year-old Toxic Substance Control Act, Aidala said at the GlobalChem conference, held March 21-23 in Baltimore.
This is going to be a tough Congress to pass TSCA legislation, agreed Mark Duvall, head of the TSCA practice at Beveridge & Diamond PC in Washington. But incremental progress is possible.
But the shift of political balance in Congress doesn't mean the issue is going away. The chemical industry, EPA and non-government organizations want change.
The time has come to bring TSCA into the 21st century, said Robert Sussman, senior policy counsel to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. TSCA is falling short of public expectations. We need to restore confidence that American people are protected.
The only thing that has really changed is one house of Congress nothing else, said Andy Igrejas, national campaign director for the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. We still have a collapse in consumer confidence in the regulatory oversight of chemicals, he said at a press briefing before GlobalChem.
That lack of trust has led to legislation at state and local levels during the past three years. Even the industry favors reforms to bring uniformity to regulation and restore public confidence.
It's time to modernize TSCA to provide a stronger sense of trust in the federal government's oversight of chemicals, said Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council in Washington.
Dooley called the current regulatory landscape increasingly complex and unpredictable. Firms are diverting resources to deal with duplicative and inconsistent regulatory requirements, making it hard for them to operate efficiently, he said.
ACC has outlined its principles for TSCA reform, but has not yet made any specific proposal. Igrejas thinks that a specific proposal from the chemical industry is exactly what's needed.
We had some discussions with the chemical industry last year that were going forward, but they've been pulling back from the table, Igrejas said. It is time for the chemical industry to step forward and put substantive proposals on the table for chemical management reform and for what needs to be done to protect families in the absence of federal regulation.
The ball is in the chemical industry's court to bring that substantive discussion forth, describe what a good federal system would look like, and make TSCA reform happen.
However, that's unlikely to happen.
An industry proposal would be dead on arrival, said Ernie Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Cleaning Institute (formerly the Soap and Detergent Association). It would simply be a target for attack and people would discuss where it would fail.
Rosenberg supports TSCA reform. There has to be a credible federal program to manage chemicals, he said. But he added that the chemical industry and other constituencies need to narrow their differences on the issues to reach a consensus.
Dooley agreed that the situation requires constructive engagement with other stakeholders. Taking a look at what's already working well in TSCA, the European chemical management system REACH and in Canada is a place to start, he said.
That is also how Duvall sees it. Maybe we can get agreement on some concrete proposals within the industry and build compromises that can be taken to Congress either this one or the next one.
That consensus is important not only to achieve TSCA reform, but also to create some order out of the muliplicity of regulations in the U.S. and globally.
There are 23 different international chemical management plans and 30 different state plans, said Doug Poole, regulatory project manager in San Diego, for DuPont.
The craziness now is trying to meet them all, he said at a March 21 press briefing organized by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. What we need to do is figure out how to manage this whole process. Until we find some way to address this harmonization, we're going to be flailing around for years and it's getting very expensive.
There is a harmonization driver on our side of the table as well, said Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, based in New York. I think harmonization has to take on a federal approach and involve all stakeholders. But how you do that on an international level is trickier.
Reform or not, EPA aims to keep improving chemical management in the U.S., said Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, deputy director of EPA's Office of Pollution and Prevention and Toxics.
We are committed to doing everything we can using existing authority to make sure chemicals are safe, and to look at information of toxicity and exposure to identify priorities where we need to take action, she said at GlobalChem.
That's why EPA has issued action plans for managing eight different chemicals since September 2009, and plans to release two more soon, she said.
In addition, Cleland-Hamnett said EPA is close to issuing its final inventory update rule, designed to expand the number of chemicals for which companies must submit safety data.
The updated rule is expected to lower the threshold for reporting to any chemical where annual volume is 25,000 pounds per year compared to the current annual threshold of 300,000 pounds.
'We are taking steps to enhance chemical management within the limits of our existing authority, EPA's Sussman added. That includes setting priorities for identifying chemicals that are of risk and developing chemical action plans for specific chemicals.
Those steps also involve taking action under TSCA Section 6 to ban chemicals where EPA deems it necessary, Sussman said.