Selected tags: U.S. states

Chemical Safety Reform: Will the Center Hold?

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Copyright © 2014, Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, D.C. www.eli.org
Reprinted by permission from The Environmental Forum®, May/June 2014

Compromise is tough. It can be thankless and unsatisfying, and, by definition, you don’t get everything you want. But it’s the only way reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act will happen. Nearly everyone, from environmentalists to industry honchos, agrees TSCA is badly broken. But start talking about how to fix the problems and you’ll find there are legitimate core principles held by different stakeholders that are difficult to reconcile. Here are just three examples:

New chemicals. The common-sense notion that new chemicals should be shown safe before entering the market, versus the desire not to hinder innovation or U.S. companies’ ability to compete globally by getting chemicals to market quickly;

Preemption. The appeal of a single federal oversight system that does not impede interstate commerce, versus the view that states have the right to act to protect their residents; and

Confidential business information. The right of citizens, consumers, and the market to information on potential risks of chemicals they may use or be exposed to, versus assurance that legitimate trade secrets submitted to regulators will not generally be disclosed.

As an active participant in the past decade’s debate, I’ve seen firsthand how such conflicting principles complicate — politically and substantively — prospects for achieving reform. I’ve also learned that progress comes only when both sides accept they have to give something to get something. Conversely, progress stalls when stakeholders get greedy. The past year has seen both tendencies.

The late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) assessed the landscape last year and saw the need for compromise. He took the political risk of working on legislation with Senator David Vitter (R-LA), who had been about to introduce his own legislation. The result was the first-ever bipartisan legislation to reform TSCA, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.

Sadly, Senator Lautenberg died shortly after CSIA was introduced. But the legislation remains very much alive, and although it was (and is) far from perfect, there has been major progress thanks to the continuing work of Senator Vitter and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) to address major concerns raised about the bill and strengthen its health protections.

Additional progress is endangered, however, as some players have fallen back to their core principles and hardened their positions. And after holding a promising series of constructive, balanced hearings on TSCA, the House majority floated reform legislation — albeit a discussion draft rather than a bill — that tilts heavily in industry’s favor.

These challenges have led some stakeholders to consider forgoing the present opportunity and either opt to retreat to the status quo or try to forestall action and wait for more political advantage in the future. In my view, this notion of an easier path any time in the foreseeable future is illusory. The conflicting needs of stakeholders are so fundamental, and the political climate so polarized, that counting on them to change appreciably is wishful at best.

The only recourse is to do the hard work of negotiating to forge a legitimate and fair compromise that delivers an efficient and effective chemicals management system. Let me use my earlier three examples to illustrate what common ground looks like:

New chemicals. EPA should make an affirmative determination of safety before market entry, but using a standard that allows prompt review based on the limited information available for a new chemical. Where that information is insufficient, EPA should be able to require more — or impose conditions sufficient to address potential risks even in its absence;

Preemption. States should be able to act to address a chemical’s risks wherever EPA has not, or when they can make the case for going further. Preemption should apply prospectively, and when, but only when, the agency has all the information it needs to make a definitive safety decision and takes final action on a chemical. Requirements that do not directly restrict a chemical’s manufacture or use — such as for reporting, warnings, monitoring or assessment, which do not unduly impede interstate commerce — should remain available to states; and

Confidential business information. Legitimate trade secrets should be protected, but not information on health and environmental effects or general information on a chemical’s use. Identities of chemicals should generally be available once they enter commerce. Up-front substantiation and EPA approval of claims should be required. Claims should generally be time-limited but renewable upon resubstantiation. State and local governments, medical personnel, first responders, and health and environmental officials should have access to confidential business information.

The opportunity before us is apparent: Our best chance to fix an outdated law that serves nobody’s interests. The alternative — sticking with a piecemeal system that undermines consumer confidence and puts our health at risk — is no alternative at all. All it takes to seize this opportunity is to agree that compromise doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Also tagged | 2 Responses, comments now closed

House TSCA reform discussion draft: Major problem #2 – Preemption of State authority

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

The House’s discussion draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) issued last week was accompanied by statements from both its sponsor and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) claiming that it represents a “balanced” approached to reform of the Toxic Substances Control ACT (TSCA).

Despite the rhetoric, however, the draft is anything but balanced, and instead pegs the needle far to one side of the dial.  My earlier post describes the massive requirements EPA must meet in order to regulate a dangerous chemical and how far out of kilter those requirements are compared both to current TSCA and to the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), especially as the latter is being revised via ongoing negotiations.

This post focuses on another area in which the CICA draft takes an extreme position:  its preemption of state authority, which is far more sweeping than under current TSCA or even CSIA as introduced.  But first let me start by arguing that any preemption needs to follow – not precede – final EPA actions that are based on robust information.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , , | Comments closed

States act while Congress fiddles

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Lest anyone thought that efforts by state legislators to protect their citizens from toxic chemical exposures would slacken despite Congress’ inability to take such action, this week’s announcement that legislators in at least 26 states are introducing such bills should dispel that notion.

Safer States, a national coalition of state-based environmental health organizations, notes that “between 2003 and 2011, 19 states adopted 93 chemical safety policies. The majority of legislation passed with healthy bipartisan support – 99% of Democratic legislators and 75% of Republican legislators voted in favor of bills, and both Republican and Democratic governors signed them into law.”

That trend shows no signs of abating in 2013, based on a list of state legislative activities underway, compiled by Safer States (more detail here):  At least 26 states are each to consider multiple legislation and policy changes this year that will:

  • restrict or label the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in receipts, children's products and food packaging;
  • require removal of certain toxic flame retardants from children's products, home furniture or building materials;
  • change disclosure rules so that concerned consumers will have a way to identify toxic chemicals in products;
  • encourage manufacturers to remove identified toxic chemicals in favor of safer alternatives.
  • ban cadmium, a dangerous, persistent metal that is often found in inexpensive children's jewelry;
  • ban formaldehyde from cosmetics and children's products; and
  • promote green cleaning products in schools.

The chemical industry frequently argues it just can’t live with a “patchwork” of requirements that vary from state to state.  But that’s just what it’s creating by dragging its feet on reform of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has never been amended since its adoption nearly four decades ago. 

State legislators, like nature, abhor a vacuum.

 

 

Posted in Health Policy, States, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

The States we're in on chemical policy reform in 2011: 30 and counting

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Today, legislators in 30 states and the District of Columbia introduced or announced plans to introduce bills aimed at reducing the impact of chemicals on public health.  These actions send a strong signal that states will to continue to respond to the mounting public concern over unsafe, under-regulated and inadequately tested chemicals — in the face of continued inaction by the U.S. Congress to do so.

The bills differ in scope and content, but all of them address chemicals, products or policy needs that have fallen through the cracks in the 35 years since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was enacted.

With strong, bipartisan majorities of Americans embracing the need for stronger chemical laws, these latest actions make clear that states will continue to act until there is a strong federal system in place that restores confidence in our government's ability to assure the safety of all chemicals we use and encounter in our daily lives.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, States, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

A healthy state of affairs: U.S. states do the public’s bidding by acting to control dangerous chemicals, even as Washington fiddles

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist and Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist.

A new report documents that state-level legislation to control toxic chemicals adopted over the past eight years has passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.  The report also highlights that both the pace of adoption and the scope of such legislation have grown significantly – a trend expected to continue until Congress enacts meaningful, comprehensive reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The report, Healthy States: Protecting Families While Congress Lags Behind, was released today by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Safer States, a coalition of state-level organizations working for chemicals policy reform.  The report analyzes 71 chemical safety laws that were adopted between 2003 and 2010 in 18 states encompassing 41% of the U.S. population.  The state laws enacted broadly fell into two categories:  those that place restrictions on individual dangerous chemicals, and those that embrace more comprehensive chemical policies.

The report’s main finding is that these laws passed with overwhelming support – and that support was strongly bipartisan:

  • Of more than 9,000 roll call votes cast, 89% favored the legislation, outnumbering opposing votes by more than 8 to 1.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Republican legislators (73%) voted in favor of the legislation, as well as nearly all Democrats (99%).
  • Ten Republican governors and 12 Democratic governors signed these bills into law.

What we find most remarkable about these new numbers is that they mirror almost exactly the views of the American electorate.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, States, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , | Comments closed

State-level nano regulation: Yes, indeed, the industry "should have seen it coming" – it caused it!

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

I just read an interesting column by John DiLoreto, CEO of NanoReg, that appears online at Nanotechnology Now.  It's titled "We Should Have Seen It Coming: States Regulating Nanotechnology."  It nicely describes the important role states play in advancing environmental policy and regulation – especially when the feds are asleep at the wheel.  And it also gives a neat rundown of the various state actions aimed at nanomaterials that are underway.

But, search as I might, I couldn't find a single acknowledgment in Mr. DiLoreto's latest column – or in his earlier related column titled "What Drives the Regulation of Nanomaterials?" – of the role the nanotechnology industry itself played in bringing all of this on itself.

That's quite an omission, in my view, given that the industry's actions (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) played a central role in getting us to where we are (or, more accurately, aren't) today on nanotechnology oversight.  That includes driving states to feel they had to step in to fill the federal void.   Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Nanotechnology, Regulation, States| Also tagged , , , , | 2 Responses, comments now closed

States unite to support TSCA overhaul; chemical industry is increasingly odd one out

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Yesterday, at its annual meeting, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Congress to enact strong and comprehensive reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

ECOS is comprised of the heads of the environmental agencies in the U.S. states and territories.  Its new resolution includes major elements of reform that EDF and the other health and environmental members of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have been calling for.  Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, States, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , | Comments closed

Yes, Virginia (and all 49 other states), chemicals do cause cancer

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Please help me welcome to the true mainstream of scientific and medical thought the seemingly radical yet commonsense notion that chemical exposures are a significant contributor to cancer, many types of which are rising in incidence even as overall rates decline.

This morning, the President's Cancer Panel released its 2010 report [available here].  The report is remarkable not so much for its core finding that chemical exposures are a major factor in human cancer, but rather because of its source – an authoritative and bipartisan body — and because of the strong linkages it makes to our failed chemicals policies.

Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Immaculate deception, part 2: Chemical industry front group calls for ban on bisphenol A

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

I’ll bet that got your attention.  Surely I jest, you’re thinking.  Well, on December 2, Montana Public Radio’s Evening Edition included a segment in which a spokesperson for the new chemical industry front group, the Coalition for Chemical Safety about which I blogged a few weeks ago, publicly calls for an all-out ban on the controversial endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA).  Here’s the clip (5 MB mp3 file). Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , , , , | 3 Responses, comments now closed

A big day for chemicals

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Today is a big day in building momentum towards achieving fundamental reform of our nation’s policies intended to ensure the safety of the chemicals we use and to which we are exposed every day.

Here’s a sample of what's going on: Read More »

Posted in Health Policy, TSCA Reform| Also tagged , , | 1 Response, comments now closed
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