We often hear that partisan politics have gridlocked Washington to the point where nothing worthwhile can get done.
That conventional wisdom was flipped on its head last week with the announcement that a bipartisan group of senators has joined together to break a legislative deadlock on chemical safety reform.
The result is the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA), which already has received positive reviews from the American Chemistry Council as well as environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.
Updating an old regulatory model
The nation’s chemical industry currently is governed largely by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a federal statute that has grown increasingly antiquated in the nearly four decades since President Ford signed it into law in 1976.
The agreement announced last week by a bipartisan grouping of leaders on Capitol Hill provides hope of bringing the chemical industry’s regulatory structure into line with the 21st century realities of an industry that employs more than 800,000 people and whose products are found in 96 percent of all manufactured goods.
While TSCA has worked well enough since it was first passed, there is little question that our federal government’s approach to chemical regulation could work far better. The fact that chemical management regulations in other countries and regions take their cues from the U.S. regulatory system provides added impetus to make sure ours is up to date.
Science- and risk-based regulation
The Chemical Safety Improvement Act will do just that. It modernizes the regulatory system with a science-based, risk-based approach to chemical regulation. It will provide the Environmental Protection Agency with improved tools and flexibility to make chemical regulation smarter.
At the same time, the CSIA will create a strong, coherent national chemical regulatory program that gives states opportunities for input while preventing the confusion that a patchwork of laws at various levels might produce.
The CSIA also addresses a feature of the 1976 TSCA law that has drawn its share of criticism over the years: namely, the provision that grandfathered thousands of chemicals that were already on the market from undergoing an EPA review.
Under the new law, all grandfathered chemicals still in commerce today will be subject to a clear, systematic evaluation process to assess safety. This will go a long way to reestablishing confidence in the safety of chemicals as well as in the federal government’s oversight of the industry.
CSIA still has some hurdles to clear before it becomes law, and there’s no guarantee it will pass during the current session of Congress. But there’s no doubt that this agreement, which the Chicago Tribune calls “a rare display of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill,” represents a step in the right direction.