CHEMICALS:

Feinstein in talks over BPA measure

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is negotiating with Republicans over her bid to limit use of the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), possibly smoothing Senate passage of a long-stalled food safety bill that faces a test vote today.

The broader food safety legislation, backed by the White House as well as industry, would give federal regulators long-sought new powers to inspect products and order recalls. But Feinstein's proposed amendment to ban BPA from children's food and drink packaging, cheered by green groups but opposed by some Republicans because of its cost, could hold up progress on the bill.

Feinstein told E&E Daily yesterday that she is in discussions on her BPA plan with the senior Republican on the Senate committee in charge of the food safety measure, Michael Enzi of Wyoming. It remains unclear whether Feinstein is continuing to seek language in the legislation to address BPA or if she is looking for other concessions in return for dropping her push. But the California Democrat said in September that she could not "in good conscience" let her amendment delay final passage of the food safety bill (E&ENews PM, Sept. 23).

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are mobilizing their members to boost momentum for the Feinstein plan, which was inspired by studies showing the chemical carries a risk of endocrine disruption. The Natural Resources Defense Council sent out an "action alert" yesterday seeking to drum up Senate support for the amendment, saying that BPA "has been linked to a range of health problems by hundreds of independent studies, but it remains unregulated."

BPA is currently under a health review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which stated "some concern" in January about the chemical's effects on children and prenatal development. That process is unlikely to conclude until next year at the earliest.

Both Feinstein's and Enzi's offices declined to discuss the BPA-related talks. If the food safety bill nets 60 or more supporters during today's procedural vote, it will become the Senate's first formal order of business during a time-crunched lame-duck session.

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to say whether he plans to allow a vote on Feinstein's BPA measure during a potential food safety debate. "We will have to see if we get on the bill and will work with our caucus and the Republicans on amendments," spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said via e-mail.

The House passed the food safety bill in 2009.