As the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Environment and the Economy subpanel considers a new draft chemical safety reform bill this week, is Congress any closer to revising the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act? During today's OnPoint, Michael Belliveau, senior adviser at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and executive director at the Environmental Health Strategy Center, discusses his testimony this week before the House subcommittee and explains why he believes the new draft, proposed by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), cannot be considered a serious TSCA reform proposal.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Michael Belliveau, a senior adviser at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and executive director at the Environmental Health Strategy Center. Mike, thanks for coming on the show.
Michael Belliveau: You're welcome, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Mike, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Environment and Economy subpanel is taking up chemical safety reform this week.
Michael Belliveau: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: And the hearing will focus on a recent draft proposal by Congressman Shimkus. You're going to be testifying at the hearing, and in your testimony you say the House bill lies so far outside the mainstream of chemicals policy that the draft legislation cannot be considered a serious TSCA reform proposal. Why do you think the proposal doesn't do a good enough job?
Michael Belliveau: Well it starts out by rolling back existing protections and current law that are working, to some extent, to test chemicals for safety, to restrict dangerous chemicals in everyday consumer products and to screen new chemicals for safety. So it starts out with rolling back what we already have and then it goes downhill from there. For example it maintains the flawed standard in existing law that prevented EPA from banning asbestos, which still kills some 10,000 Americans every year. And so it holds onto the worst features of the current law and rolls back those that are actually working a bit.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you see anything sort of salvageable in the bill, something that you think is a good starting point for moving forward?
Michael Belliveau: Well, the bill takes two steps forward but 12 steps back. I mean it also snuffs out existing protections that exist at the state level on day one of the law being signed and then it gets worse from there. I mean there is the basis for a reasonable compromise that protects the health of Americans, but this House bill is not it. In fact really this House bill is the most brazen power grab by the chemical industry that I've seen in my 35 years.
Monica Trauzzi: How do you compare it to the Senate bill?
Michael Belliveau: Well unfortunately it shares many of the same fundamental flaws of the Senate bill, which is currently dead over in the other body, and we're hoping that the parties step up with a serious proposal that we'd be ready to engage in but we're -- we haven't seen that yet.
Monica Trauzzi: You said it's dead over on the Senate side. How much momentum, political momentum exists behind this effort to reform TSCA and move this forward outside of the committee?
Michael Belliveau: Well, the good news is that there's a broad consensus amongst all stakeholders that TSCA needs to be fixed, that our chemical safety system is broken. It's unlike other issues. This is a health issue. This is a matter of concern to parents with autistic children, to cancer survivors. It's a matter of family health, so there's very broad public support and political support for reform. The question is can we come to the middle, and instead we're looking at extreme proposals so far.
Monica Trauzzi: Pre-emption continues to be a major sticking point for both chambers.
Michael Belliveau: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you see a path forward on pre-emption? What is the path forward on it?
Michael Belliveau: Well, the existing Toxic Substances Control Act strikes a delicate balance between state and federal authority that we think should be maintained. Instead in both the Senate and the House bills we see far-reaching efforts to snuff out existing state laws that have actually been in leadership of protecting family health from toxic flame retardants in couches, from lead and mercury, from phthalates in personal care products. The states have been leading along with Europe and the international community, and the federal government is behind. Why would we want to chill leadership where it's happening already?
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the strength of the chemical industry. What do you think is at play politically here? What's happening behind the scenes that's leading to the creation of this bill, which you say is too weak?
Michael Belliveau: Sure. Well, the chemical industry realizes that they're being hammered by in the marketplace when you have Wal-Mart and Target speccing safer substitutes to dangerous chemicals in their supply chain. When you have some 30 states that have passed laws, when you have major trading partners in Europe that are far ahead of the United States, the chemical industry is not able to effectively compete in that patchwork of state and marketplace restrictions. That's why they want federal reform. We want federal reform too so that all Americans are protected. So that's the good news is that people are agreeing that we need to achieve reform. The question is will it be health-based or will it be based on the constant benefits to the chemical industry?
Monica Trauzzi: We had the American Chemistry Council's Cal Dooley on the show last year when the Senate was taking up their legislation.
Michael Belliveau: Yes.
Monica Trauzzi: And he said that the chemical industry would continue to be willing to negotiate on these efforts to reform TSCA. You're suggesting here that the committee should start over from scratch. Do you think that's an effective approach though to negotiating to get to a final agreement?
Michael Belliveau: Well we actually spent hundreds and hundreds of hours talking with chemical manufacturers and sketched out an outline of a potential compromise. The legislation that's been proposed is nowhere near that middle ground. It's extreme to the right, and so let's get to the middle. Let's -- let's -- the chemic industry say they support a health-based safety standard. Let's write one into law.
That's not what is in the House bill. The chemical industry says it supports giving EPA the resources and tools to determine the safety of chemicals, but let's see the user fees that the industry will agree to in the legislation that enable EPA to do the job. So there's a disconnect between what the chemical industry says and what the legislation they support actually would propose to do.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Michael Belliveau: All right, I appreciate it, Monica. Thanks.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
[End of Audio]