WASHINGTON — The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to send to the full U.S. House of Representatives floor a bill (HR 2576) that would update 40-year-old U.S. chemical regulation laws.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who offered and withdrew an amendment that would have attempted to address concerns that some existing state laws could be pre-empted by the changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), abstained from the 47-0 vote.
If signed into law, among its many changes the bill would:
• Require safety reviews for all chemicals on the market in the United States, including on those grandfathered under the current federal law.
• Require the EPA to review and approve new chemicals before entering the U.S. market.
• Require the EPA to take into consideration the latest science to determine impacts on human health and the environment.
• Offer chemical companies the chance to jump the line and demand an EPA review of their product, to be completed within three years, at the company's expense.
• Allow for, but set limits on, confidential business information (CBI) claims.
• Preserve the private right of action for negligence.
Members from both sides of the political aisle acknowledged that the issue of state law pre-emption remains a major sticking point on getting TSCA reform passed after decades of attempts. The attorneys general of 12 states, including California, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts and Washington, have voiced concerns more than once that changes to the federal chemical regulations should not pre-empt the state laws that have been passed over the years while Congress failed to update TSCA.
California's Proposition 65 is perhaps the most famous of these statutes, requiring businesses to notify citizens when significant amounts of certain chemicals are present in products, workplaces, public spaces or released into the environment. Bisphenol A and PVC have both come under Prop 65 attack in recent years.
“We really need to have a good solid federal law. I just want these states to be able to be assured that they can implement their laws,” Eshoo said Wednesday. “These are large delegations with a lot of votes.”
California and New York together have 65 seats in the House, enough to derail a close vote.
The amendment would have clarified the circumstances under which federal law would take precedence over state law, and offered guidelines for instances “when it's impossible to comply with both state and federal law,” Eshoo said. She withdrew the amendment amid promises from committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and the bill's sponsors that meetings to hammer out possible pre-emption language could be held before the bill is taken up on the House floor, which is expected sometime this month.
“It is an issue that we need to address before the bill goes to the floor, particularly if we're going to continue to have bi-partisan support on the floor,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), an original co-sponsor of the measure.
The question of pre-emption has also hindered TSCA reform progress in the Senate, where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wants several changes before she will support the bill, including all possibilities of pre-emption removed from the bill and the naming of specific chemicals as toxic in the legislation, including asbestos.
The Senate version of the bill (S 697) was approved for the floor by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on a 15-5 vote on April 28. The full Senate has not yet taken up the bill, though its sponsors are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to do so as bipartisan co-sponsorship — 39 senators, 20 Republicans and 19 Democrats — continues to rise.