WASHINGTON — Efforts to broker a deal on national chemical regulation policy appear to have fallen apart in the waning days of the 113th Congress, leaving plastics producers and other chemical makers in limbo for yet another year — at least.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had been negotiating with Sen. Tom Udall, (D-N.M.), and the two were close to unveiling a bill to update the 1970s-era Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), according to Senate staffers.
But that compromise measure was dropped after continued objections from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee and who released her own version of the Vitter-Udall bill, complete with extensive revisions.
The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) was proposed last May by Vitter and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D-N.J.), as a compromise bill after more than a decade of disagreements on revamping TSCA. The measure, which has seen its share of revisions since its introduction, would require safety testing of all chemicals on the market as well as new chemicals and would grant the EPA authority to phase out or ban chemicals deemed harmful, from flame retardants to building materials to bisphenol A. While the bill has drawn cosponsors from both sides of the aisle and extensive hearings have been held in both the House and Senate, the objections of Boxer and other staunch opponents have remained the same.
“Real TSCA reform will protect our most vulnerable populations like pregnant women, infants and children. National standards must incorporate these basic principles while allowing states to strengthen safeguards for their citizens. State laws often lead to benefits nationwide as consumers and industry react to standards and information generated at the state level,” said Boxer in a news release accompanying her TSCA reform counterproposal. “The test for whether a TSCA reform bill is ready to move forward is when you can say the bill is stronger than current law when it comes to protecting our families from dangerous chemicals. The Vitter TSCA proposal still falls short of the changes needed to improve on current law.”
Boxer has also argued that the Vitter draft would make it too easy for the EPA to exempt chemicals from regulation and prevent states from taking action to protect their citizens as they see fit, preempting existing chemical regulation laws like California's Proposition 65. Boxer's home state of California is well known to plastics processors for its harsh treatment of plastics products from BPA to vinyl via Prop 65.
Prop 65, approved by more than 60 percent of voters there in 1986, requires businesses to notify citizens when chemicals are present in products, workplaces, public spaces or released into the environment that have at least a 1 in 100,000 chance of causing cancer or birth defects.
Will Coggin, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, argues that Boxer's approach, as well as the failure from both parties to update TSCA, is dangerous.
“Not only is the Toxic Substances Control Act woefully outdated, but the failure of Congress to take action to update our national chemical policy has led to a proliferation of competing state laws. California's Proposition 65 has made millions for the trial lawyers who fund Sen. Barbara Boxer's campaigns, but it has left the entire country subject to the whims of a single state's regulators. Any future attempts to reform the TSCA should include a preemption clause that finally liberates the rest of the country from the shackles of Prop 65.”