Don't expect any movement this year on Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-N.J.) Senate bill to reform the nation's top chemical regulations, the president of the largest chemical trade association said yesterday.
Cal Dooley, president of the American Chemistry Council, characterized Lautenberg's "Safe Chemicals Act" (S. 847) as "extreme," but he told E&E Daily he has been encouraged that there may be a path later toward a bipartisan reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA.
"It's been, to be honest, a frustrating process to date," Dooley said of Lautenberg's bill. "We have been very supportive of trying to see if we could have a bipartisan process that could really put together a balanced approach."
Dooley's remarks come as public health advocates have reignited their calls for the Senate to take up Lautenberg's bill, which overhauls TSCA by granting EPA more authority to regulate chemicals and requires that manufacturers prove their substances are safe before they go on the market.
Advocates' push for the bill is backed by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) publicly campaigning for the measure after a recent Chicago Tribune investigation revealed deceptive practices used by flame retardant manufacturers to accomplish their regulatory agenda.
Dooley acknowledged the growing chorus for TSCA reform, and he said that for the first time there appears to be an "opportunity for bipartisan negotiations to take place." But, he added, those discussions likely couldn't be based on Lautenberg's bill, but rather a "blank slate" involving bipartisan sponsors.
"I think it's difficult to do it from an extreme proposal," Dooley said. "We would certainly put the Lautenberg proposal in that category."
Lautenberg's office declined to comment for this story.
ACC has put forth several criticisms of Lautenberg's bill, most notably at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing last November when Dooley and Democrats shouted at each other.
In particular, Dooley said that there are significant problems with the new safety standard in Lautenberg's bill, which would require chemical makers to conduct risk assessment on aggregate exposures to chemicals. That would be far too difficult and expensive for small businesses, he said, and stifle chemical innovation. ACC has also pointed to other parts of the bill that it feels would place unnecessary burdens on its members (Greenwire, Nov. 17, 2011).
Dooley's remarks yesterday, however, also come as hostilities between industry and public health groups are starting to boil. The health groups and Lautenberg's office say the Democrat has made it clear he is open to compromise and rewriting large sections of the bill. Further, they say that there appears to be broad consensus on many issues.
But some groups are now charging that ACC is actively working behind the scenes to torpedo Lautenberg's bill in hopes that after the November election the prospects for a bill it can get behind will improve.
In fact, the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition and the Environmental Defense Fund ran a full-page ad in the print edition of Politico last week referencing the Chicago Tribune series. The ad features Joe Camel -- a cartoon character who peddled cigarettes in magazine ads in the 1980s and '90s -- and accuses the chemical industry of using the "playbook of big tobacco."
"What's so extreme about the Safe Chemicals Act?" Andy Igrejas of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families asked yesterday. "It proposes adopting the safety standard for chemicals that was recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Are they extreme? ... What's extreme is how far ACC will go to attack any attempt at oversight of their industry while at the same time denying what they are doing."
Dooley, however, strongly pushed back on those claims, noting that ACC participated in a series of stakeholder meetings conducted by Lautenberg and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) "in good faith."
"The record clearly demonstrates that we haven't been an obstacle to reform," Dooley said. "We have been constructively engaged in any process that could contribute to reforms under TSCA or legislative reforms."
There are signs, albeit small ones, that Lautenberg is attracting Republican support for the first time.
Amanda Critchfield, a spokeswoman for Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, confirmed that her boss has reached out to Lautenberg.
"We are actively working within our caucus and across the aisle with Lautenberg's office to develop a viable path forward for TSCA reform," Critchfield said.
Critchfield indicated that ACC may support the move.
"ACC has always made it clear to us that they also favor a bipartisan collaborative process for reform," she said.
Several sources close to the negotiations also said that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has expressed interest in the issue. Alexander's office did not return a request for comment.