First Update in 40 Years Strengthens Federal Role, but Takes Away Stricter State Power to Eliminate Dangerous Chemicals in Everyday Products.
Final floor votes are expected this week on federal legislation to overhaul the badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, the federal law that’s so weak that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) couldn’t even ban asbestos, which still kills more than 10,000 Americans every year. The final legislation, HR 2576, requires EPA to review chemicals for safety against a strictly health-based standard to protect those most vulnerable, including pregnant women, children and workers. The bill establishes firm deadlines for federal action for the first time, although its slow pace ensures that only 20 chemicals must undergo federal review at a time, with EPA allowed 5 to 7 years to impose restrictions on each dangerous chemical. (More than 10,000 untested or unsafe chemicals remain in commerce).
In some respects the bill is weaker than current law. It will expand federal preemption of the states: blocking states from imposing new restrictions while EPA simply studies each high-priority chemical, permanently preempting states when EPA deems a chemical safe or imposes federal restrictions, and making it much more difficult for states to gain an exemption from federal preemption. The bill also weakens federal authority to intercept imported products – like toys, shoes and clothing – that contain dangerous chemicals. The chemical industry and chemical-using manufacturers such as the auto industry lobbied for these weakening changes.
Michael Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, and a leading national advocate for federal chemical safety reform for more than a decade, issued the following statement in response to the final legislation:
“We applaud Congress for reaching a bipartisan agreement to fix our broken federal chemical safety system. We appreciate the significant improvements made since the first bipartisan bill was widely panned in 2013 as phony reform. But we cannot support the legislation for its unprecedented take-away of states’ rights and weakened federal oversight of imported products.
This legislation will finally take the handcuffs off the U.S. EPA so they can phase out dangerous chemicals that threaten the health of pregnant women, children and workers. That’s good news for all Americans.
But we’re very disappointed that Congress will weaken current law and take away the power of the States to take early and more health protective action on high-priority chemicals, in a nod to campaign contributions and lobbying by the chemical industry.
Under state laws like Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act, the implications are clear. States remain free to require product makers to disclose their use of dangerous chemicals and to search for safer alternatives in consumer products. States also remain free to ban uses of toxic chemicals that EPA hasn’t addressed. However, for the first time, states will be blocked from taking early action on EPA’s high-priority chemicals for up to 4 years while the federal agency simply studies the problem. In addition to early preemption, States will no longer be able to ban chemical uses that EPA deems safe or to take more protective action than minimum federal restrictions. Such an expansion of federal preemption of the States is unprecedented in environmental policymaking by Congress over the last 50 years.
Much of the success of this new law will depend on how good a job EPA does in taking timely health-protective action and whether Congress adequately funds the agency.”