WASHINGTON—House legislators began setting the stage for a debate on chemical regulation, exploring the holes and flaws in the Toxic Substance Control Act.
In the hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, chaired by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Democrats were quick to pile on criticism for the 1976 TSCA law.
TSCA "has not lived up to expectations," said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the panel.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the full committee, called TSCA "long overdue for strengthening."
"In recent years, the (Environmental Protection Agency) has undertaken serious effort to reform TSCA through the exercise of its regulatory authorities," Waxman said. "But EPA's authority is limited, and progress has been slow, even for chemicals that are the worst of the worst."
Shimkus also acknowledged the May 22 introduction of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, a bipartisan compromise bill drafted by Sen. Vitter (R-La.) and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and said the House "should closely examine TSCA and be open to legislation to update and reform it."
Some witnesses, however, testified with the hope of preserving the existing law.
"In my view, the TSCA regulatory process is logical and almost elegant in its simplicity," said Kathleen Roberts, vice president of B&C Consortia Management, in an initial overview of the law's regulatory program.
But most were as critical as members of the panel—if not more.
"TSCA is widely recognized to be a failure," said Daniel Rosenberg, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Chief among criticism of TSCA is the fact that when written, it grandfathered in the approximately 60,000 chemicals already on the market. Many health and environmental groups argue that science has made strides since 1976 that could prove some of those "protected" chemicals to be dangerous.
Oversight groups, including the Government Accountability Office, have repeatedly shown the Environmental Protection Agency to be ill-equipped and under-funded for administrating TSCA.
American Chemistry Council Chairman Cal Dooley lauded the subcommittee for its exploration of TSCA and its impacts on the economy and public heath and safety, especially in light of pending, bi-partisan legislation in the Senate.
"Today's hearing is an important step to ensure members of Congress understand the important role that TSCA has played in the management of chemicals in commerce and the need to modernize the law to better reflect today's science and meet today's needs," Dooley said in a statement.
But even with support for reform coming from ACC and other trade groups, some in the chemical industry are wary of a new law or modernization of the existing one.
Beth Bosley, president of Boron Specialties, a boutique industrial chemical manufacturer based in Pittsburgh, told the panel that some changes to TSCA, such as requiring extensive new testing before a new chemical can go into development, could cost small companies like hers anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 in prerequisite fees for a chemical that may not even end up being manufactured, effectively running small businesses out of business.
"TSCA has allowed the U.S. to lead the world in chemical innovation and has done so without jeopardizing our nation's health or the environment," Bosley said. "Any amendments to TSCA must preserve the timeframes and flexibility that allow this innovation to continue."
Bosley also encouraged lawmakers to protect proprietary information, lest a regulatory law end up actually giving a leg up to overseas competitors.
"Disclosure of chemical identity is all it takes to give away a competitive advantage to an offshore manufacturer," she said.