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Bipartisan Action on Lautenberg TSCA Reform Bill

By Kimberly Dean

Thursday, May 14, 2015

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The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy unanimously approved today the TSCA Modernization Act of 2015. Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), chairman of the subcommittee, had support of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the bill now moves for consideration by the full committee. This bill updates our nation’s primary chemical safety framework, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Three other members sponsored the House legislation including Environment and Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ). They called the bill a “strong bipartisan agreement that works to improve both the chemical safety and commerce.”

This legislation represents a bipartisan compromise and makes several changes from earlier versions of the bill. The latest version of the bill changes the effect on state laws after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed an evaluation of a chemical. States may keep chemical enforcement laws passed prior to August 1, 2015 that do not conflict with federal law. Similar to the Senate bill, states now cannot enact chemical restrictions or bans in the future if they go beyond EPA regulations. Further, the House bill now allows EPA to issue renewable five-year critical use exemptions for chemicals that are economically or critically necessary if regulations to reduce their risk are not cost-effective.

In the Senate, action on an updated TSCA bill has also occurred. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently approved its version of the bill. S.697, The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, passed the committee with bipartisan support and now is ready for action by the full Senate.

The Senate bill’s lead sponsors are Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), and another 19 Democrats and 19 Republicans have also co-sponsored the bill. Progressive Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) negotiated adjustments to the bill with Sens. Vitter and Udall, and committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) prior to the markup. A few of these changes were to narrow the extent of preemption of state authority, increase the number of high-priority chemicals undergoing reviews, and require expedited action on certain well-known chemicals. This agreement ensured that the three progressive senators’ public health and environmental concerns were addressed sufficiently enough that they co-sponsored the bill. Sens. Vitter and Udall had sufficient votes to pass the bill out of the committee, but they saw the value of approving a more bipartisan bill.

The bipartisan dialogue and bipartisan action taken during the House and Senate markups built upon recent efforts, but were by no means a foregone conclusion. Longtime public health advocate Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Vitter, who is often viewed as more closely aligned with the chemical industry, came together in 2013 to write a bipartisan bill that became the foundation of this bill. The 2013 effort stood out due its bipartisan nature, but also due to the sponsors’ focus on bringing environmental, public health and chemical industry groups to the table and crafting a compromise. After Sen. Lautenberg passed away, Sen. Udall continued his work on the bill, and continued to strengthen it.

The role of chemicals in our everyday lives and their impact on public health and the environment has made coming to an agreement on TSCA reform challenging. The House and Senate bills are significant steps in the moving the conversation forward in the right direction. We commend the bipartisan efforts to reform the much outdated 40 year old TSCA law.

The Bipartisan Policy Center believes that Congress needs to modernize and reform the current TSCA laws, and now is a watershed moment for this. We will provide further commentary on this process in three additional posts over the coming weeks.