CHEMICALS

Boxer releases draft TSCA bill after compromise fizzles, lists changes needed to win her support

This story was updated at 10:22 a.m.

A key Democratic senator -- and the leading opponent of a bill to revamp the nation's chemical management system that's favored by the chemical industry -- put out her own proposal late yesterday hours after an effort to broker a deal on a new draft collapsed.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released a redline of a draft bill being developed by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and a detailed critique of her colleagues' proposal, which she said would represent a step back from current law, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

"TSCA reform must provide greater public health protections than we have today," Boxer said in a statement. "Real TSCA reform will protect our most vulnerable populations like pregnant women, infants and children. National standards must incorporate these basic principles while allowing states to strengthen safeguards for their citizens."

Udall had worked with Vitter, the EPW ranking member, to craft changes to Vitter's "Chemical Safety Improvement Act" (S. 1009) in an attempt to win support from public health and environmental groups that had largely opposed the bill. Their efforts proved insufficient to win the support of a broader array of stakeholders, though the Environmental Defense Fund continued to take a pragmatic view that the legislation may be revisited next year (E&ENews PM, Sept. 18).

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Boxer said the Vitter-Udall draft bill contained loopholes that provided too many methods for a pro-industry U.S. EPA to delay regulatory action on chemicals -- such as by not defining the term "unreasonable risk." The bill listed 10 chemicals for addition to an initial high-priority list, requiring a safety review that could take as long as five years -- leaving the public with information on just 10 more chemicals by then. Boxer said she also wants the law to specify that asbestos must be put on the high-priority chemical list immediately.

The proposed law also provided too much flexibility to EPA to determine that a chemical does not require regulation, Boxer said. Doing so would also prevent states from enforcing their own regulations on the chemicals, and states would also be barred from issuing new regulations on chemicals that were in the process of an up-to-seven-year EPA safety evaluation.

"I remain hopeful that Senator Vitter and my other Senate colleagues will work with me to address these concerns so that we can develop a consensus on TSCA reform," Boxer said. "I am strongly committed to this effort."

Boxer a target of industry ire

Boxer held several hearings in the Environment and Public Works Committee this Congress on proposals to overhaul the 38-year-old chemical law, but has described the issue as a "long-term" priority and hasn't typically commented on the details of Vitter's proposal (E&E Daily, Aug. 1, 2013), which he initially crafted with the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Boxer also supported a more liberal TSCA reform bill that Lautenberg introduced last year, S. 696, the "Safe Chemicals Act," that failed to attract Republican co-sponsors. That's prompted criticism from industry groups and Republicans, who see Boxer as the biggest obstacle to updating the chemicals law.

Under current law, EPA chemical evaluations often take years, with no specific deadline when they must be completed. That provides many chances for groups seeking to influence the process to present new evidence of a chemical's safety, delaying the regulatory process.

American Chemistry Council spokeswoman Anne Kolton told Chemical Watch last month that the prospect of a Republican takeover of the Senate -- and thus no Boxer leading the Environment and Public Works Committee -- would help the bill's chances there next year.

Yesterday Kolton blamed the draft bill's collapse on "Senator Boxer, trial lawyers and the [Natural Resources Defense Council]."

Some chemical safety groups said yesterday that the rumored agreement was never ready for legislative action.

"There was not yet a deal to be scuttled. Major deficiencies remained in the draft including the small number of chemicals EPA would be likely to review, a lack of new resources for the agency and other gaps that affect whether the legislation would make a difference for real-world scenarios like the West Virginia chemical spill earlier this year," Andy Igrejas, the executive director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said in a statement. "Most importantly, the legislation would continue to severely restrict the authority of states to protect their citizens from toxic chemicals, even when the EPA has declined to review a chemical or when action on the chemical is years away."

NRDC Director of Government Affairs David Goldston said in a statement the documents showed it was possible to win Boxer's support for a chemical safety reform bill.

"Senator Boxer's draft includes thoughtful approaches to addressing many of the remaining issues and the progress so far shows that a compromise ought to be reachable," Goldston said.ory

Twitter: @samrpearson | Email: spearson@eenews.net

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