TSCA reform on hold again – and over what this time?

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

Well, it looks like American families will have to wait a bit longer for better protection from toxic chemicals, with today’s decision by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to place a hold on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.  Earlier this week, the House passed the legislation by a vote of 403-12, and it was due to come to Senate floor today – until Sen. Paul announced his hold.

Arguing that he needed more time to review the bill, Sen. Paul cited brand new concerns over two provisions that were already in the Senate bill when it came to the Senate floor last December by unanimous consent and passed on a voice vote with no objections.  Those provisions involve criminal penalties and state preemption.  Let’s look at each:  

Criminal penalties

Existing TSCA already has criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations of the Act.  The bill makes two changes – BOTH of them added to make TSCA consistent with other federal environmental laws:

  • It raises the maximum fine from $25,000 to $50,000 per day for knowing and willful violations of the Act.
  • It adds a provision that provides for higher fines or imprisonment for anyone who knowingly and willfully puts an individual in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. This provision is virtually verbatim taken from other major Federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Sen. Paul objects to this provision because, according to his floor statement today, “it involves new criminalization, new crimes that will be created at the federal level.”  In other words, he apparently objects to subjecting someone who deliberately “places an individual in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury” to criminal penalties.

State preemption

Sen. Paul also apparently objects to the bill’s provisions that place limits on states’ authority in regulating chemicals, which has been, of course, a very contentious part of the debate over TSCA reform.  The bill would, under certain circumstances, not allow states to impose restrictions on a chemical that are more stringent than the Federal government has imposed; see here for more detail about preemption under the bill.

But unlike, for example, the nine House Democrats who voted against the bill because of its preemption, Sen. Paul’s concern is about states being told they can’t do less than the Federal government when it comes to controlling pollution or restricting chemicals.   According to his floor statement today, he objects to the bill because “it includes preemption of states – it includes a new federal regime which would basically supersede regulations or lack of regulations in Louisiana or Texas or Oklahoma” (emphasis added).  Lest there be any doubt about his meaning, Paul goes on in his statement to decry Federal over-regulation.

Sen. Paul’s positions would seem to be wholly at odds with the consensus reflected in the Lautenberg Act on the need for a more effective and stronger, not weaker, Federal chemical safety system.



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