A strong new TSCA

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

Those are four words that I thought I might never get to say and see over the many years I’ve worked on this.  But today, at a ceremony to be held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, President Obama will sign the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.

The Lautenberg Act amends the core provisions of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our nation’s main chemical safety law, for the first time since its passage 40 years ago.  Those amendments are extensive, reaching into nearly every aspect of TSCA – reflecting the need for a top-to-bottom overhaul.

I’ve already blogged recently about both how this was made possible and why it is so significant (see here and here).  And I’ve developed some resources for those wanting to understand what the Lautenberg Act does and how it changes TSCA for the better.

The path leading to today’s historic Presidential signing opened up just over 3 years ago, when two Senators who couldn’t have been more different politically – the late Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. David Vitter – came together to introduce the first bipartisan TSCA reform legislation.  At that time, I and others here at EDF had a tough decision to make:  lend our support to give momentum to a bill that we knew had serious flaws, or withhold that support – lest it give momentum to such a bill.

We took the calculated risk – and it was a big one – to support the bill for four reasons. 

First, we believed Sen. Lautenberg, our community’s longtime champion on this issue, deserved our support.  Second, the bill, despite its flaws, held the seeds of many of the reforms we sought even as it had many provisions we did not support.  Third, we were concerned that, were there to be no support from our community, the bill would be unlikely to advance and we would lose yet another opportunity to reform TSCA.  Fourth, we believed that the best way to fix the serious problems with the bill was to help get it moving through the legislative process, work diligently to find solutions to those problems that could still retain bipartisan support, and encourage the engagement of additional lawmakers to make those changes in exchange for their support for the bill.

I fully recognize and respect that others in our community chose a different approach, didn’t support EDF in our decision, and maybe still don’t.  To that, I’ll quote a song from the 1960s I still love: “Different strokes for different folks.”  There’s simply no way we would have passed this law – and this strong a law – without multiple actors taking multiple approaches to getting it done.

The path by which this new law wended its way through Congress over the past three years has been likened to climbing a very high mountain.  You can’t do it all in one climb; you can’t begin to think about doing it by yourself; and you need to establish and attain multiple base camps on the way up.  (I could torture the analogy further:  watch out for avalanches and sudden storms that can sweep you away at any moment; expect to suffer repeatedly from exhaustion and shortness of breath; don’t hurry and stick close to the ropes; and so on.)

Before I get carried away, let me close by restating something I said in a recent perspective piece:

Of course, now the real work begins—implementing the law. Which brings me to my last point: A fervent hope that stakeholders will give this new law every chance to work. … I realize it’s a tall order to expect stakeholders with strong interests in certain outcomes not to use every possible avenue to influence every step the EPA takes under the new law. But it’s vital that its implementation lead to improved public health protection as well as a restoration of public confidence, after decades of erosion of that confidence under a badly broken chemical safety system. That means the EPA needs to be given some breathing room, to get a new system up and running, and to get some points on the board early that demonstrate its ability to make decisions and take needed actions.

Meanwhile, I’ll say those four words again:  A strong new TSCA.  That sounds really great, doesn’t it?

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One Comment

  1. Richard Reibstein
    Posted June 25, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    God I hope you are right, Richard, but the fact that states are now limited in what they can do is a terrible blow for our national system of laws, as well as a bad indicator for our chances of success in moving things forward. I hope you are right, but I fear that they will do what they can to inhibit the implementation you will be working on, and I wonder what we can do to undo the preemption that is not needed for interstate commerce and is only an undeserved gift to a set of companies that do not deserve it.