Attorneys General from 13 states oppose House Republicans' TSCA reform bill.

A coalition of Attorneys General from 13 states spoke out last week against the House Republicans’ plan to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Attorneys General sent a letter [PDF] to the leadership of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy criticizing the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA), the proposal introduced by Subcommittee Chair Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) in late February. Like other critics, the letter lauded the legislators’ efforts and the necessity of modernizing TSCA but took particular issue with CICA’s preemption provisions, arguing that they would “effectively eliminate the existing federal-state partnership on the regulation of toxic chemicals” and “cripple states’ ability to protect their citizens and the environment from the risks posed by toxic chemicals.” The Attorneys General on the letter are all Democrats and represent the following states: New York, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

CICA has already been the subject of one House Subcommittee hearing in March, and today, a second hearing on an updated draft of the bill was announced, to be held on April 29. The new draft [PDF] and a redline comparison [PDF], among other materials, are available on the hearing page.

According to the Attorneys General, CICA’s preemption provisions for both existing and new chemicals would preempt any state law or regulation that “prohibits or restricts the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, or use” of any chemical for which EPA has made a “safety determination,” prioritization decision, or promulgated a rule imposing requirements or restrictions. Since CICA contemplates that EPA would take at least one of those actions for all new and existing chemicals, states would eventually be preempted from regulating any chemicals. States would not be able to regulate, for example, chemicals EPA designates as low-priority but does not take further action to regulate, but which may still pose a high hazard or high exposure risk. Neither would preemption be affected by EPA’s failure to make a safety determination within the mandated 90 days.

The letter further criticizes the elimination of two of TSCA’s current “categorical exemptions” from preemption, which apply when a state regulation is identical to an EPA action, or if the state regulation prohibits the use of a chemical in the state, as well as the case-by-case exemption available under current law.

In addition, the Attorneys General argue that CICA’s preemption of states’ authority to obtain health and safety information about toxic chemicals is an unprecedented, “significant step backward in the realm of the ‘right to know’ about toxic chemicals.”

The Attorneys General pointed out that states have historically been leaders in reducing risks from toxic chemicals, as in the case of Connecticut’s early ban on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) two years before the federal government’s nationwide ban came into effect under TSCA. The Attorneys General also emphasized more recent efforts by state legislatures on chemical management bills and phase-outs of particular substances and in certain applications, arguing that “[p]rotection of children’s health from harmful chemicals has been a particular focus of the states.” Under CICA, the letter argues, the states would no longer be able to serve as innovators and standard-setters for the whole nation’s benefit.

The letter is the latest critique of the House bill, which has come under attack from NGOs and some Democrats while receiving support from industry. Last month, Bloomberg BNA interviewed two former EPA officials were both more sanguine about CICA’s prospects. The officials argued that although CICA imposed serious implementation challenges on the EPA, those issues could be fixed with only minor changes. Although they agreed that CICA was relatively similar to the Senate TSCA reform proposal, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, the officials also cautioned that the key challenge to achieving TSCA reform is addressing state preemption concerns.