Chemicals

Safer Chemicals' Igrejas discusses competing Senate TSCA reform bills

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing this week on a bipartisan measure introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. It is one of two bills currently up for consideration, following the introduction of a measure by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) last week. During today's OnPoint, Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, discusses the competing bills and the potential for a compromise within the EPW Committee.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. Andy, thanks for coming back on the show.

Andy Igrejas: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Andy, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be holding a hearing this work on the bipartisan Vitter-Udall TSCA reform bill, chemical safety reform. The bill carries former Senator Lautenberg's name. Is the substance of it something that Lautenberg would have championed?

Andy Igrejas: That's a good question. I'd say not yet. It is -- I consider myself an original member of the Lautenberg fan club. I've worked on these issues for 20 years -- from New Jersey originally actually, from nearby where he was from, and I think always respected his passion for really focusing in on the practicalities of legislation and it having to make a difference for regular people, for working people. And he approached a lot of these environmental issues from the perspective of people that worked in the factories in Paterson and Newark. But the bill has a bunch of holes in it still in terms of the program it creates at EPA, and then on the other hand it takes away things that states are doing now and could do in the future. So we feel on balance it doesn't do what needs to be done. It is -- the negatives still outweigh the positives that the bill does.

Monica Trauzzi: These discussions on chemical safety reform have been going on for a long time. Is this the compromise bill that industry and environmental groups have been working towards for years?

Andy Igrejas: Not yet. I mean, you only have one environmental organization that has supported it, and I think they're supporting it for reasons -- well, they can explain why they're supporting it. Our perspective on this is that it really just has to be better than the status quo, which means that EPA needs to be able to do things that they're not doing now, and they need to be able to do them -- play them all the way through so that they have real health impacts for regular people, regular consumers at home. And then it needs to not take away some of the good things that are happening now, which the bill does the way it restricts states. So the sort of meager pace of chemical reviews that's in the bill, the holes that are still there in terms of those reviews especially around products and chemicals in products, is too weak to make up for the fact that it would basically silence states going forward in regulating chemicals, because that's where most of the action has been for the last 10 years.

Monica Trauzzi: So the politics of this got very interesting at the end of last week when Senators Boxer and Markey introduced a competing measure that takes some would say a more aggressive approach. What are the high points of that legislation from your perspective?

Andy Igrejas: Sure. I think the biggest high point is that Senator Boxer's bill would have EPA automatically do more to tackle the worst chemicals. It specifically names asbestos in the bill and says, EPA, you have to go out and ban asbestos. It names the category of chemicals that the whole world is basically moving on from; persistent and bioaccumulative toxins they're called. These are the chemicals that build up in the food chains. They're a big problem here, especially in places like Alaska, but actually everywhere. The chemicals are showing up in the nursing mother's breast milk, et cetera. Europe has targeted those chemicals; so has the Stockholm Convention -- it's an international treaty. And Senator Boxer's bill would say that we should, too, and we think she's right to do that. And then a big difference that has gotten a lot of attention is that Senator Boxer's bill would not restrict states at all, whereas Vitter and Udall would restrict them significantly going forward.

Monica Trauzzi: So how contentious do you expect things to get at the hearing this week?

Andy Igrejas: I think they might get pretty contentious, surely. We're hopeful that a mid- -- sometimes the debate on this issue has been more like the opening scene of "Bye Bye Birdie" where everyone's talking about who's where and what, as opposed to the substance of the debate. And I think if you look at some of the statements that have been made -- the California attorney general, other attorney generals have weighed in with a very substantive critique of how exactly this bill goes in and restricts states. It doesn't just prevent them from taking new action on chemicals if EPA is just studying a chemical. It actually blocks states from even enforcing the identical restrictions that the federal government has put in place, and that's new, to actually block that, to ban co-enforcement of these chemical restrictions. And I think a lot of us looking at it feel that that's just a blatant attempt to reduce enforcement under the new bill. A lot of laws require or really rely on the states to do the bulk of the enforcing. And so that's among the issues that we hope the hearing teases those out, that it teases out the problems with the products not really being regulated under the bill the way they could be, not really dealing with chemicals coming in from China in imported products -- that's a major hole in the bill -- teases them out so that they can be fixed, not so that nothing happens, but so that those problems are fixed and the high points of the Boxer-Markey bill can be brought in with the Vitter-Udall bill and we can have a compromise that really protects public health in the ...

Monica Trauzzi: So you really think that there could be a compromise and that this tension is not going to get in the way of seeing something come to the floor.

Andy Igrejas: Sure. Where there's a will, there's a way, and we think if senators really focus on the substance of this debate, really from across the spectrum -- you have people in Alaska; we have a senator from Alaska on the committee -- who really want action on those persistent bioaccumulative toxins because the higher up you eat on the food chain, like a lot of these Alaskan Native communities, the more of an impact you get from that. And that's been a top priority for them. That's something I think when it comes out, maybe there could be bipartisan support for doing something on that. Asbestos -- most people know it's a substance that's notorious. They're surprised it's not already banned. The idea of doing something on that explicitly I think will make sense to some people. So I'm hopeful that some substantive compromise can emerge after the issues are aired and the bill's support can be broadened, the issues can be addressed, and we can move forward.

Monica Trauzzi: The Vitter-Udall bill as written is bipartisanship and has really strong co-sponsorship already. Why do you think that is?

Andy Igrejas: I think they've had very strong support from the chemical industry that is a significant political player, especially in the last election. They've really upped the spending they did in the elections, their lobbying game, et cetera, and they made this their top priority. I think they've done that because of the fact that the world has started to move on from a lot of their products. You have Wal-Mart and Target starting to ban particular chemicals in particular products, you have states regulating them, and you have our trading partners setting the standard for the world in Europe instead of the United States. And they want the law reformed partly to fight back against all of those trends, and where we could come to an agreement I think is if more enlightened people in the chemical industry would like to see -- can live with reform where the only benefit they get is, look, if EPA is deciding if a chemical is safe in ways that public health and environmental groups all agree with are legitimate, that provides a benefit to them at the end of that process. And especially if, at the end of that process, there's uniformity -- the states follow what the federal government has done. That's a legitimate business benefit for them that doesn't require doing anything sneaky or rolling anything back. So I'm hopeful that we can bring the debate back to that.

And our own perspective is we just -- we don't really care about which politicians are on which side of it or how many people they have. We have to focus on the substance of is public health and the environmental protection being advanced by the bill or not, and it's still not.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, so this will be a very interesting hearing to watch this week. Thank you for coming on the show.

Andy Igrejas: I think so -- thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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