We constantly hear about the dysfunction and gridlock in Washington that all too often keeps anything worthwhile from getting accomplished.
So it’s worth saluting the efforts underway to modernize the regulations affecting the chemical industry – efforts that look to have an excellent chance of succeeding.
The U.S. Senate is expected to take action soon on legislation to reauthorize and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. A coalition of both Democrats and Republicans seems to be forming to push this across the finish line and bring chemical regulations into the 21st century.
The elements of this reform are basic, but they are critical to ensuring that chemical manufacturers have the regulatory certainty needed to support future investments that will drive economic growth, while also strengthening oversight and providing consumers with more confidence in the safety of chemicals.
The key proposed changes to modernize TSCA include:
- Strengthening the safety standard by mandating that the Environmental Protection Agency base chemical safety decisions solely on considerations of risk to public health and the environment, and eliminating TSCA’s “least burdensome” requirement for regulating a chemical;
- Mandating safety reviews for all new and existing chemicals in commerce, including those grandfathered under TSCA;
- Requiring EPA to review Confidential Business Information claims that protect the identities of chemicals in commerce, and impose a 10-year, renewable time limit on such claims;
- Preserving the existing right of Americans to sue and seek damages when they believe harm has been done by chemical(s) in commerce, and the ability of litigants to obtain confidential information in a judicial proceeding; and
- Balancing state and federal regulations on chemicals by creating a uniform federal standard for each chemical that is applied across the nation, which grandfathers in state regulations on chemicals enacted prior to August 1, 2015. Furthermore, states can act to restrict a chemical until and unless EPA takes up that same chemical and addresses the same uses.
The problem with the current regulatory structure isn’t just that it is based in a federal law written for the world as it existed during the era of disco and bellbottom pants – a law that New Mexico Senator Tom Udall says “has been broken for far too long.”
It is also the case, as ExxonMobil Chemical Company President Neil Chapman noted recently, that over the decades the regulatory landscape has “become overgrown with a patchwork of state and local laws that have appeared in the absence of any meaningful action from Washington.”
Thanks to the efforts of many good people in Washington of both political parties and hailing from a range of ideological backgrounds, we hopefully can look forward to clearing away that clutter and enacting reforms that bring clarity and consistency to one of America’s most dynamic and innovative sectors.