Monday, November 21, 2011

Senate Hearing On "Safe Chemicals Act" (S.847)

Nov 17: The Full Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) and the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health held a joint hearing on the "Safe Chemicals Act" (S.847) designed to update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Witnesses testifying at the hearing included representatives from: Department of Ecology, State of Washington; BlueGreen Alliance; American Chemistry Council; McKenna Long & Aldridge; and Environmental Defense Fund. Full Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK), and Subcommittee Chair Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) all delivered opening statements.
    Senator Boxer indicated, ". . .a closer look at TSCA reveals that adjustments to the law are necessary if we are to ensure that people are safe from dangerous chemicals.  Improvements are needed, because the law's effectiveness has been severely weakened over the years. In particular, a 1991 court decision that partially overturned EPA's ban of asbestos -- a deadly substance known to cause cancer -- put a heavy burden on EPA to prove that a toxic chemical presents an 'unreasonable risk' before the agency can restrict the use of a chemical. Public health and environmental groups point to other weaknesses in TSCA -- for example, the law does not include specific protections for pregnant women, infants, children, and others who are far more vulnerable to many chemicals than the general population. The time to reform our approach to regulating toxic chemicals is overdue. Europe has recently reformed its toxic chemical controls laws by creating a program, called 'REACH' [Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals]. This program requires companies to develop information on chemicals' impacts, and it puts the burden to show that its chemicals are safe where it should be -- on the chemical industry."
    Senator Inhofe said, "It is vital - given an unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent and numerous costly new regulations coming from this administration - that we make sure any TSCA reforms help to not only protect human health, but jobs and the economy. My interest in TSCA modernization - which I have said before - is in large part due to TSCA's broad reach over chemical manufacturing and its potential, and real, impacts on the economy. TSCA regulates the manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal of chemicals-authority that covers thousands of transactions and decisions by thousands of people every day. I have consistently said that TSCA modernization must be accomplished with a broad base of support, including industry up and down the value chain. It also must take into account the small and medium size businesses that could be affected the most if the law is updated improperly. . . My principles for reform remain the same: any modernization of TSCA should be based on the best available science; use a risk-based standard for chemical reviews; include cost-benefit considerations; protect proprietary information; and must prioritize reviews for existing chemicals."
    Senator Lautenberg reviewed the history of the Committee consideration over the past two years and five hearings and said, "Our hearings revealed that the status quo does not work for the chemical industry, either. In a hearing last February, executives from Dow and DuPont, two major chemical companies, testified in support of reform, in part because of the difficulties their companies face operating under different rules in different states. We heard similar messages earlier this year from the chemical maker, BASF, and S.C. Johnson, the global consumer product company. And we heard from colleagues on both sides of the aisle who agreed TSCA must be revised to work better for businesses and the health of our citizens. . . "Earlier this year, Senator Inhofe and I met about trying to make this bill bipartisan, and he suggested a process for getting more ideas from industry and others on the table. Throughout the summer, our staffs held 10 meetings with representatives from industry, labor, and environmental groups on different sections of the Safe Chemicals Act. . ."
    He  concluded saying, "The bottom line is this: this legislation establishes a strong, but practical system for guaranteeing the safety of chemicals, many of which end up in our bodies and the bodies of our children. And we remain open to other ways of achieving our shared goal of a system that improves safety and encourages continued innovation and growth in the chemical industry. But we must act on this issue soon. I plan to call for a vote in this committee in the near future. I hope we will be able to address any concerns raised today so we can approve a bipartisan bill that encourages the use of chemicals that help, and protects our children from the chemicals that harm." 

    American Chemistry Council (ACC) testified that, "Unfortunately. . . today we are discussing a bill that remains very similar to the bill introduced in 2010, which we consider unworkable." In his testimony Dooley outlined several fundamental flaws with the bill, including an unachievable safety standard, data requirements that would undermine the success of the current program to evaluate new chemicals, the creation of an overly burdensome and unnecessary minimum date set for all chemicals, and the lack of an effective prioritization process. He said, "We also believe that S.847 would compromise the protection of confidential business information, inappropriately expand the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority into the jurisdiction of other federal agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), further complicate issues surrounding national uniformity of standards, and fail to adequately consider animal welfare."      

    Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on behalf of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of over 300 organizations that speak for more than 11 million Americans. The coalition includes groups representing health professionals and health-affected populations and communities, environmental justice organizations, leading businesses, and state and national environmental groups -- all of whom came together to urge Congress to fundamentally reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. After outlining a series of problems with TSCA, EDF said, "All of these problems would be largely or entirely ameliorated by adoption of legislation introduced this year, S.847, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. It provides the framework for a comprehensive, systematic solution to a set of problems that until now have only been addressed -- if at all -- through reactive, piecemeal actions.

    EDF said, "We have ongoing dialogues with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) and more than a dozen of their member companies; these have involved many days of substantive meetings on key issues in TSCA reform over the past six months. . . While confidentiality agreements preclude me from discussing details, let me say that in our dialogue with CSPA we are on the cusp of agreement on recommendations to consider in the legislation that would address two key needs in TSCA reform: balancing public access to chemical information with the need to protect legitimate confidential business information; and designing a system to provide EPA with more robust information on how chemicals are used for purposes of both prioritizing and assessing the safety of chemicals. I have come away from my deep involvement in these dialogues with the belief that there is not a single major issue in TSCA reform for which, working together, we cannot find a solution. . ."
    Access the hearing website and link to all testimony and a webcast (click here). Access more information on the REACH program (click here). [#Toxics]