TSCA Reform in Congress

23 Feb 2016 12:30 PM | Nicole Plese (Administrator)

For a few years now Congress has been working on reforming TSCA, the Toxic Substances Control Act. TSCA reform is an important issue for NAHMMA, as it will directly impact the array of chemicals that are allowed for use in commerce, and could prevent the most hazardous chemicals from finding their way into homes and businesses.  For more background on TSCA see the Policy Committee Background Document here, and my presentation at the 2013 NAHMMA conference here

Unfortunately TSCA, and the current efforts to reform it, are complex. It takes a lot of time and study to get a handle on the various policy nuances.  For this reason I rely heavily on the NGOs that focus on TSCA reform.  In particular I look to Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, a coalition of organizations that NAHMMA has signed on to. I also follow the blogs on TSCA reform posted by Richard Denison at EDF, Richard was a keynote speaker at a NAHMMA conference a few years back.

In recent years several TSCA reform bills have been considered, with two bills under serious consideration now. There’s the “TSCA Modernization Act”, HR 2576, which recently passed the House on a 398 to 1 vote, and a bill in the Senate, S.697.  Observers are saying these bills are the best hope for any reform to happen at all.  There are significant differences between the two bills, so the next step is for the Senate to decide whether to take up the house bill, or work toward passage of their own bill. For an analysis of the differences see this SCHF blog post.  Also see this presentation at the 2015 NAHMMA NW Chapter conference by Ken Zarker.

Of course we are in a Republican dominated congress, and the chemical industry holds a lot of sway, but even they are saying that reform is needed. The question becomes whether a bill can be crafted that makes genuine improvements to the current flawed system for regulating chemicals in commerce, without losing the support from the Republican side.

From the analyses by our NGO friends it is clear that there has been a lot of bipartisan work on the bills, and they are showing signs of promise that real reform could happen. But, there are some key areas that still need work.  A big issue that concerns both the Safer Chemicals folks and EDF, as well as many people working in state government, is the issue of preemption. In essence this is the proposition that state governments should no longer have authority to regulate particular chemicals in commerce once EPA takes them up for consideration. The discussion now focuses on strictly defining and narrowing preemption so it does not severely restrict states’ ability to take action.  It’s complicated stuff, Richard Denison’s blog post sheds some light on the issue.  

So, this is challenging legislation for NAHMMA to comment on. Because of the need to get NAHMMA board approval for legislative comments, we probably have one shot at submitting a letter. Please chime in: Any thoughts on when & how NAHMMA should comment? Any pointers to other resources that shed light on the issues?  Any other comments on this complex but important topic?


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