House Committee holds hearing on new Chemicals in Commerce Act.

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held its second hearing on the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA), introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) as the House’s proposal to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Today’s hearing was based on an updated version of CICA which Rep. Shimkus, who is Chair of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, unveiled last week.

Rep. Shimkus began the hearing by highlighting “significant changes” from the earlier version, including: new authority for EPA to develop information for priority designation purposes; new deadlines for EPA to take action on existing chemicals; and limits on the preemption effects of a low-priority designation, which now would leave in place state regulations that were in effect before the low-priority designation was made.

In his opening remarks, Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) argued that, as industry witnesses have agreed, CICA must restore the public confidence in the safety of chemical products by establishing a safety standard based on health and environmental information alone, while costs and benefits should be separately incorporated in risk management actions. Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) alleged that the unilateral process of developing CICA and pointed out that under the bill, “EPA would be prohibited from revealing the identity of chemicals that cause serious health and environmental harms,” which would harm companies marketing safer consumer products.

In the hearing’s first panel, EPA Assistant Administrator Jim Jones of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention testified that the Administration had not yet developed a “formal position” on CICA, but noted that the bill did not align with the Administration’s announced principles for TSCA reform.  Mr. Jones commented that CICA does not provide EPA with a way to review existing chemicals that may pose a concern in a timely fashion, because the legislation uses a “significant risk” standard very similar to the current law. Similarly, according to Mr. Jones, the bill’s treatment of new chemicals, like current law, does not require EPA to conclude that a chemical is safe before it is allowed to enter the marketplace.

As in previous legislative hearings on TSCA reform, all of the witnesses agreed on the importance of modernizing the law. Industry witnesses included representatives from BASF, Procter & Gamble, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, and the American Chemistry Council. These witnesses supported many of the changes in the updated version of CICA, including the bill’s risk evaluation provision, new authority for EPA to develop information for prioritization, and protection of Confidential Business Information (CBI). Industry witnesses did, however, raise questions about some issues related to the bill, including the length of EPA’s deadlines, the meaning of “significant risk,” the definition of “best available science,” and appropriate fee approaches to provide appropriate resources for EPA. Witnesses from the NGO Safer Chemicals and Healthy Families and the National Conference of State Legislatures criticized the bill’s broad preemption provisions.

Outside of today’s hearings, reactions to the new version of the bill continue to trickle in. Yesterday, leading Democrats Rep. Waxman and Rep. Tonko sent a letter to Rep. Shimkus expressing concern that the bill’s preemption provisions “could jeopardize state or local laws and regulations relating to hydraulic fracturing and the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.” Environmental and public health NGOs have also been critical; the Natural Resources Defense Council called it “a dud” and the Environmental Working Group described it as a “bad piece of legislation, pure and simple.”