Lawmakers behind two controversial bills that would pave the way for the United States to ratify an international chemical treaty yesterday said they are working to get the measures to the House floor this session, despite a rapidly dwindling number of legislative days.
Both measures won committee approval before the August recess, in a Bush administration-backed push to amend U.S. law and allow the Senate to consider ratifying the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The international treaty, which took effect in May 2004, now effectively bans 12 industrial chemicals and pesticides that accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms.
"I would hope to get it on the floor" before the end of the session, House Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio) said of his bill, H.R. 4591.
When asked whether House Republican leaders would support that goal, Gillmor replied, "I think so. We've had conversations in the past."
Gillmor's measure, which would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, one of two federal statutes related to implementing the Stockholm agreement, has drawn fire from environmental and labor groups and a coalition of largely Democratic state attorneys general (E&E Daily, July 13).
A companion bill, sponsored by Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), would amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
Gillmor muscled H.R. 4591 through the Energy and Commerce Committee on a party-line vote in mid-July, with the full backing of panel Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas).
Lucas' H.R. 3849 sailed through the Agriculture Committee later that month, on a voice vote (E&E Daily, July 28).
But environmentalists who are following both measures questioned whether the lawmakers had the votes to see them through the House.
Gillmor's H.R. 4591, the more controversial of the two bills, "has moved forward without any cosponsors, on a party-line vote," said Kristin Schafer, coordinator of the organochlorines program at Pesticide Action Network North America. "He seems to be very committed to push it forward no matter what, despite the fact that there's tremendous controversy about this bill."
Gillmor "seems to have a strong drive to move this right now," added Daryl Ditz, senior policy adviser at the Center for International Environmental Law.
For his part, the lawmaker attributed the push to a simple fact: With the Stockholm Treaty now in effect and parties considering adding new chemicals to the original "dirty dozen," the United States will remain on the outside of future negotiations unless it ratifies the agreement.
That situation is "a national disservice," Gillmor told E&E Daily. "The key thing we want to do is to get implementing legislation so the United States can participate fully at international meetings" of Stockholm Convention parties, he said. "We're not trying to use this as any vehicle to change current law," as environmentalists have suggested, he added.
Enviros targeting House moderates
One factor complicating analysis of the Gillmor bill's chances is the fact that many lawmakers are unfamiliar with the Stockholm Treaty. "POPs just isn't an issue that rolls off their tongues," acknowledged Ditz.
But environmentalists are hoping to change that. Several groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, are mobilizing against the Gillmor and Lucas bills.
"LCV urges you to vote against H.R. 4591, the Stockholm and Rotterdam Toxic Treaty Act of 2005, as a standalone measure or attached to any other legislation," the group said in a letter last week to House members. "The bill undermines existing protections against toxins, pre-empting stronger state requirements even when the Environmental Protection Agency fails to act. The proposal also injects onerous cost-benefit requirements that will make future U.S. action on these substances very unlikely."
Seemingly aimed at moderates on both sides, the letter continued: "LCV has scored votes on toxics protections on numerous occasions, and the Political Advisory Committee will consider this vote in compiling LCV's 2006 scorecard."
According to LCV deputy legislative director Nat Mund, the group has coordinated briefings on the Gillmor bill in "60 or 70 [House] offices over the last month and half."
"This is one of those issues that is flying below the radar screen," Mund said. "We wanted to let everyone know that this bill represented a problem."
Bills could be combined, sources suggest
Meanwhile, rumors abound about the form in which the Gillmor and Lucas bills will reach the floor, with sources on and off the Hill suggesting that the two bills might be combined to face a single House vote.
That could happen in the Rules Committee, or one language from one bill could be added to the second as an amendment.
When asked about a possible merger of the two measures, Gillmor said there had not been discussion "about combining the bills in Rules." His main goal, he said, was getting the substance of his bill through the House.
Lucas seemed to offer a stronger hint that such a strategy was under consideration.
"Let's just say, I would not be surprised" if the two bills were combined, he said. "As long as we achieve our goal, I don't care whether it's Paul's bill or my bill. I just want to get it done."