Historic deal on TSCA reform reached, setting stage for a new law after 40 years of waiting

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

House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a final reconciled bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our nation’s badly broken chemical safety law.  The final text of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was posted today, and is set to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, with Senate consideration expected to follow later this week.

Negotiations to reconcile the two chambers’ quite different reform bills, both passed last year, reached a feverish pace in the last few weeks, leading to today’s historic breakthrough.

The result is a final bill that, while a compromise, is a substantial improvement over current law.  The bill adopts the comprehensive approach taken by the Senate bill, while sticking closer to the structure of current TSCA, as did the House bill.  Negotiators adopted the House bill’s construct of risk evaluations over the Senate’s safety assessments and determinations, while largely adopting the Senate approach to reforming TSCA’s new chemicals program, establishing a prioritization process applicable to all chemicals, and updating the inventory of chemicals active in commerce.  The bill’s chemical testing provision is more of an amalgam of the two bills and negotiators agreed to leave several sections of TSCA (e.g., exports and imports) largely untouched, as the House bill had done.

Overall, the new bill makes significant improvements to all of TSCA’s core provisions.  Among its main features, the bill:

  • Mandates safety reviews for chemicals in active commerce.
  • Requires a safety finding before new chemicals are allowed on the market.
  • Replaces TSCA’s burdensome safety standard – which prevented EPA even from banning asbestos – with a pure, health-based standard.
  • Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations, like children and pregnant women.
  • Enhances EPA’s authority to require testing of both new and existing chemicals.
  • Sets aggressive, judicially enforceable deadlines for EPA decisions and compliance with restrictions.
  • Makes more information about chemicals available, by limiting companies’ ability to claim information as confidential, and by giving states and health and environmental professionals access to confidential information they need to do their jobs.
  • Requires EPA to reduce and replace animal testing where scientifically reliable alternatives exist that would generate equivalent or better information.
  • Requires EPA to prioritize chemicals that are persistent and bioaccumulative, and that are known human carcinogens and have high toxicity.
  • Preserves a significant role for states in assuring chemical safety.

The bill is the fruit of several years of negotiations, initially in the Senate, that started with the introduction in 2013 of the first bipartisan reform proposal by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Sen. David Vitter.  Extensive negotiations led by Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Vitter resulted in a significantly revised bill introduced a year ago, named in honor of Sen. Lautenberg.  Further negotiated changes attracted significant bipartisan support in committee, and additional revisions were sufficient to attract 60 co-sponsors by the time of its passage in December by unanimous voice vote.  Sens. Jim Inhofe, Barbara Boxer, Tom Carper, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker, Ed Markey and Dick Durbin each played significant roles in improving the bill keeping up momentum toward its passage.

The House process was much quicker but equally bipartisan, with a bill introduced in May and passed in June of last year, by the remarkable margin of 398-1.  Representatives Fred Upton, Frank Pallone, John Shimkus, Paul Tonko, and later, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Diana DeGette and Gene Green shepherded and supported moving the bill through the House and the bicameral negotiations.

This bill gives no one everything they wanted – neither Republicans nor Democrats swept the table.  For EDF’s part, there are certainly provisions we don’t like that are aspects of the final compromise that was struck to secure passage.  But we are very pleased that we can say that each major section of the final bill offers real improvements, and taken together, the final bill is a major improvement over current law.  At long last, EPA will have stronger tools to protect Americans from toxic chemicals that impact the health of millions of Americans.

The bill has significant support in the health, environmental, animal welfare and labor communities, endorsed by these groups that represent 26 million Americans:

  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
  • March of Dimes
  • Moms Clean Air Force
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • North America’s Building Trades Unions
  • Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

For more information, see our brief fact sheet and statement of support.

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One Comment

  1. Reality Check
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    NGO’s against the bill, because of preemption: EWG, US PIRG, GREENPEACE, Attorney generals from 12 states!

    No bill is better than a bad bill – this is one Nasty bill! Who should have the right to negotiate away our rights of democracy – to negotiate away our rights at the state and local level? How dare NGOs support preemption on “our” behalf – cutting off our hands and feet – our right to democracy!

    What you traded our democracy off for is nothing more than pipe dreams . We see time and time again EPA regulatory procedures heavily influence by industry, EPA ignoring the laws, EPA completely failing in processes, and EPA’s budget constantly slashed. These will not be improved by the TSCA bill. The People must have the power of our local and state jurisdictions and democracy when federal government fail us. Denison and NGO’s have negotiated away the one avenue of recourse we did have, and allow chemical industry to chip away at our democracy. Do not think for one minute the industry greed for preemption will stop here, next target for preemption: FIFRA – the pesticide regulations.
    Just because you aren’t using democracy at the local & state level DOES NOT MEAN we aren’t. Give us our democracy back!