How will a new push by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on chemical safety reform affect prospects for legislation making its way through the Senate? During today's OnPoint, Andy Igrejas, national campaign director at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, discusses his expectations for the reintroduction of the "Safe Chemicals Act" and talks about the biggest sticking points to moving legislation.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Andy Igrejas, national campaign director at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. Andy, it's great to have you on the show.
Andy Igrejas: Thank you. Great to be here.
Monica Trauzzi: Andy, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg recently announced he would not be seeking re-election, and that he would make toxics reform a priority for the remaining two years of his time in the Senate. What are your expectations for how the Senate's going to take this up, and does it really have the potential to move out of committee, considering the current political climate?
Andy Igrejas: I think it does. I think his announcement, and he put the Safe Chemical Acts and toxic reform front and center in his announcement as part of a two-year mission to get this through. So I think that has added some urgency, given a boost to it. I think we'll see the Senate act this year, that the committee will act by sometime this summer, with plenty of time to have this move through the floor. I think it will get out of committee. It's gotten out of committee before, and I think that there is Republican support for this agenda, for a version of this agenda. Whether it can materialize in the committee or materialize after, we'll see. But we're pretty positive that this is the year that this will get to the Senate floor.
Monica Trauzzi: So the senator indicated that he would reintroduce the bill soon. What ...
Andy Igrejas: He's going to reintroduce it soon certainly ...
Monica Trauzzi: What kind of timeline does that mean? I mean, what kind of timeline are you looking at?
Andy Igrejas: I think within weeks.
Monica Trauzzi: OK.
Andy Igrejas: Within weeks. Yeah.
Monica Trauzzi: There's talk that Senator Vitter will introduce a chemical reform bill. Is this healthy competition, and could it ultimately lead to a stronger bill, or do you think this might muddy the waters a bit when it comes to actually getting something to finally pass?
Andy Igrejas: It remains to be seen. I think that there's a version of it that could be healthy competition, but the version of it that they've telegraphed, at least, with public comments, is a bill that actually could be a step backwards, and a number of health organizations wrote to Senator Vitter recently expressing that concern, because they've telegraphed a set of points that are really at odds with the mainstream medical and health communities' positions on how chemicals should be judged. And the process that they followed has only had input from a very small number of chemical companies, and I don't think that, unless they changed course or unless the bill, we're pleasantly surprised, I think we could see a bill that will, you know, flout the recommendations. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics and all these other organizations and Nurses' Association, Public Health Association, in favor of something that is just what Dow and Exxon Mobil would want, you know, on their own. And I think that won't have enough credibility to necessarily get something to be a healthy edition to the debate, but we'll see.
Monica Trauzzi: Does the Lautenberg bill take into account the concerns of the chemical industry? Does it do that enough?
Andy Igrejas: I think it has, he had input from a lot of different folks over the course of the debate. There was a process he held with Senator Inhofe last year that had input from lots of different trade associations, as well as the Health and Environment Committee. He rewrote the legislation, the version that passed committee included a number of changes to major areas, confidential business information, new chemicals, how new chemicals are judged, other things, how the chemicals are prioritized, that flowed directly from the input that was received from that process. So I think they have taken into account a number of chemical industry concerns. But I think they're willing to go further, depending on how people come forward.
Monica Trauzzi: If Lautenberg is not able to move this through in the two years he has left in the Senate, then who do you look to in Congress to sort of champion this type of legislation?
Andy Igrejas: Well, first things first. I think we're going to get action this year in the Senate. But if you look through the list of co-sponsors, there's a number of people who have been pretty outspoken on this issue. There's some on the committee. There's some in leadership, Senator Durbin, Senator Gillebrand, Senator Whitehouse, Senator Merkley, there's a number of people. I think it's a target-rich environment for the people who would champion this going forward.
Monica Trauzzi: The chemical industry is most concerned about sort of cumbersome and onerous regulatory system that could be created by this legislation. When you push for these types of reforms, do you take into account the jobs and economic impacts that could happen as a result of maybe the industry thinking these regulations are too onerous?
Andy Igrejas: Very much so. I think we had an, our campaign and the leadership of national health and environmental nonprofits had an extensive dialogue with folks in the chemical industry from major companies. We've had dialogue with some other companies that, you know, increased our understanding, and that's what, some of the changes that occurred in the committee were about addressing that. In particular, the idea of not having a lot of requirement to develop a lot of information, health and safety information, if the EPA wasn't going to act on it very quickly, and having an orderly process for which chemicals get reviewed, that kind of thing. The lessons that they see, they draw from what Europe has done in reforming chemical policy. So we're very prepared and think that ultimately to get this through, there's got to be a, the industry has to come forward and be straight about what they want to see in reform, and how to make it more workable, but they also have to honor the fact that there are some standards out there that the scientists and the health professionals have established, and in some cases have been in law for a long time, that would be a minimum level of credibility, that if we're going to say that chemicals are being reviewed for safety, that they'd have to meet. So they're going to have to up their game if they want the stamp of approval basically from the EPA that after they've looked at the chemical and want to say that it's safe.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We will end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Andy Igrejas: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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