In what is the first indication that he appears to be working toward earning some bipartisan support, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) is planning stakeholder meetings on reforming the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that will be co-hosted by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
"Staff for Sens. Inhofe and Lautenberg will convene a series of meetings in the coming weeks regarding Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform," says an email invitation to the first meeting obtained by E&E Daily.
The first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday. It will focus on chemical safety standards.
Inhofe's participation is significant because Lautenberg so far has been unable to gather any Republican support for his efforts on TSCA reform.
In April, Lautenberg introduced the "Safe Chemicals Act of 2011" (S. 847), a broad piece of legislation that seeks to significantly change the way chemicals are regulated.
Most notably, it would shift the way U.S. EPA obtains chemical information by putting the burden on industry to prove that chemicals on the market are safe. That chore currently falls on EPA, which can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces that a chemical poses a health risk (E&ENews PM, April 14).
TSCA is the country's only major environmental statute to never receive a significant congressional update. Environmental watchdogs have criticized the legislation as woefully ineffective at regulating the more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce. The Government Accountability Office has also listed it on its annual "high risk list" of troubled federal programs this year (Greenwire, Feb. 16).
Lautenberg introduced similar legislation last year, but it was opposed by industry groups and failed to garner any Republican support. The bill stalled in the run-up to the midterm elections.
The Democrat's office declined to comment on the meetings because of the delicate nature of negotiations surrounding the bill. It also declined to provide information on the topics of future stakeholder meetings and who would be invited.
Inhofe's office also declined to comment on the meetings.
After being told of the meetings, environmental watchdogs celebrated them as a significant first step toward bipartisanship.
"Public opinion research has repeatedly shown that the public does not see ensuring chemical safety as a partisan issue," said Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund. "People of all political persuasions are very concerned about the health impacts of toxic chemicals and want more effective control. The health and environmental community will be taking this opportunity very seriously, and we hope other stakeholders will do the same."
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