Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.
A recent column in the New York Times focused on some differences that have surfaced inside the environmental community during the long fight for federal chemicals policy reform. I’d like to write today about what we have in common, and how our differences can make us stronger—because I don’t want anyone to be left with the false impression that EDF believes there is only one strategy for environmentalists to pursue on the road to reform.
While we believe our approach of bipartisan engagement has been effective in moving and improving legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), we also understand and appreciate the strategies employed by other groups. Principled opponents of legislative proposals have helped to identify legitimate concerns and to pressure lawmakers to address those concerns. Collectively, these varied efforts have yielded a strong bipartisan Senate bill that will advance protections for public health and the environment.
EDF believes that the longstanding efforts of many state governments and state- and local-based advocates have also been essential to get us to where we are today. These efforts have both directly addressed risks posed by toxic chemicals, and driven the chemical industry to the negotiating table on TSCA reform after years of complacency.
As essential as that state-level work has been and remains, we believe it is not sufficient. We must also secure a strong federal system that provides EPA with the authority and resources needed to establish nationwide protections from chemical risks. From the beginning, one of the biggest challenges in strengthening TSCA has been to strike an appropriate balance between state and federal authority. EDF was clear early on that initial bipartisan legislative proposals were far too sweeping in their preemption of state authority (see, for example, pages 1 and 8 of my 2013 testimony on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act). For the past two and a half years, we have worked diligently to press lawmakers to narrow that preemption and retain a strong role for states, while preserving the solid bipartisan support that is essential for getting a bill to the President’s desk.
While we have supported the Lautenberg Act, we have also fought for improvements in the bill. As improvements were made, 60 Senators, including progressive Democrats like Sens. Whitehouse and Markey, have come to support to the bill.
Getting a strong TSCA reform bill enacted into law has demanded, and will continue to demand, input from a broad set of stakeholders. Differences in strategy and approach can strengthen, rather than diminish, that outcome.