The US Congress has passed a bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
A Senate voice vote late Tuesday passed the compromise bill, agreed in late May and passed by the House in a landslide victory. Congress’s approval of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (HR 2576) comes after many months of negotiations to reconcile measures passed by each chamber last year.
The bill now needs only to be signed by the president to become law, a step which seems assured after the White House’s endorsement.
Despite criticism from some environmental advocacy groups, which say the bill is a concession to the chemicals industry, the measure has bipartisan support and backing from a wide array of industry and advocacy groups.
Senator Tom Udall (D–New Mexico), a co-author of the Senate’s bill, says the existing TSCA “was broken from the start,” and rendered “virtually useless” by a 1991 court ruling that blocked EPA’s ban of asbestos.
According to Sen. Udall, “passage of this bill in the Senate means that for the first time in 40 years, the United States will have a chemical safety program that works.”
“The Lautenberg Act is long overdue, as it is the first major environmental reform to be enacted in over a quarter century,” said Senator Jim Inhofe (R–Oklahoma), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Senator David Vitter (R–Louisiana) added, “After four decades of living under a stagnant chemical safety law, I am so very glad to have passed a law that strengthens our country’s international competitiveness, provides desperately needed regulatory certainty for industry, and mandates that the federal government use better science and provide more transparency.”
American Chemistry Council president and CEO, Cal Dooley called the bill’s passage “truly historic”. The trade group looks forward to the president enacting the measure in the coming days.
Momentum for the bill’s passage was stalled before last week’s Memorial Day recess, when Senator Rand Paul (R–Kentucky) objected to bringing the measure to the floor because insufficient time had been given to read the legislation.
But a spokesperson for Mr. Paul said Tuesday that “having been given the opportunity to review this legislation”, the Senator was prepared to allow a vote to occur.
What to Expect Going Forward
With just the president’s signature separating the bill from law, attention turns to how the reform will change existing TSCA.
As outlined in analyses by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and by the House Committee of jurisdiction, the new law will:
● establish a health-based safety standard;
● require the EPA to assess the risk of existing chemicals under “judicially enforceable deadlines”, without consideration of cost. This process will include identification of substances on the market, designation of low and high priorities, risk evaluation of high-priority substances, and restrictions for those that present an unreasonable risk;
● strike the existing statute’s mandate that the EPA implement “least burdensome” regulatory requirements;
● mandate that the EPA make “an affirmative safety finding” before allowing a new substance on the market, under a 90-day review period (which may be extended to 180 days);
● increases the EPA’s authority to order testing, with a requirement to “reduce and replace animal testing where scientifically reliable alternatives exist”;
● trigger an EPA review of all past confidential business information (CBI) claims, and require re-substantiation of approved claims after ten years;
● limit state authority to restrict substances that are undergoing EPA review, have been found by the agency not to pose unreasonable risk, or are subject to federal risk management, unless they seek out a waiver. States’ authority to require reporting and monitoring are preserved, and chemical restrictions enacted prior to April 22, 2016 are ‘grandfathered’ in;
● call for identification and protection of most vulnerable populations;
● require science-based decisions, founded on weight of evidence (WoE); and
● Collect fees on new and existing chemicals that go directly to the EPA.
Lawmakers have said that they will be closely overseeing the EPA’s implementation of the law.
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