After much anticipation, the long-awaited new version of the Senate bipartisan bill to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was released today by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA). The proposal, called the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act,” is a new version of the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act” (CSIA) introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Vitter in May 2013.
Like the CSIA, today’s proposal sets a new safety standard of “no unreasonable risk of harm to health or the environment” from exposure of the chemical under the conditions of use, including to potentially susceptible populations – such as infants, pregnant women, the elderly, or workers – as identified by EPA. The bill authorizes EPA to obtain new information on chemicals throughout the safety evaluation process under TSCA § 4 and establishes a “tiered screening and testing” system. Under the bill’s safety evaluation process, articles can only be prohibited or “otherwise restrict[ed]” if EPA has “evidence of significant exposure to the chemical substance from such article.” To reduce duplicative testing, the Udall-Vitter proposal provides for a framework for the “fair and equitable reimbursement” of data development costs.
EPA would be required to establish a risk-based prioritization scheme of high- and low-priority substances within one year of enactment, and an interim list of 10 substances in each category. Additional prioritization milestones for three and five years after enactment are also specified. The bill provides various criteria for prioritization, including recommendations from states, hazard and exposure potential, etc. States would be able to seek judicial review of low-priority designations, and such designations “must be based on information sufficient to establish that the substance is likely to meet the safety standard.” The prioritization scheme also provides for an “additional priority” allowing companies to request the EPA to fast-track safety evaluations and determinations, which would be fully funded by user fees.
Significantly, the Udall-Vitter bill directs EPA to set up a user fee program to fund 25% of program costs including safety evaluations and regulations, up to $18 million. This fee authority would be collected and made available “only to the extent and in the amounts provided in advance” as appropriated by Congress.
The new proposal takes a somewhat different tack on state preemption than the CSIA. The enforcement of existing state statutes and administrative actions on specific substances will not be preempted until the effective date of the applicable federal action, e.g., an EPA Significant New Use Rule, test order, or safety determination. However, new state statutes or administrative actions prohibiting or restricting substances designated as high-priority would be preempted as soon as EPA commences a safety assessment. Like the original CSIA, the new bill provides for a system in which states may apply for a waiver from preemption, subject to various conditions. EPA’s waiver decisions would be subject to notice and comment and subject to judicial review.
In addition, the bill provides for an interagency “Sustainable Chemistry Program” to coordinate and support sustainable chemistry-related research, development, commercialization, education, etc., although “sustainable chemistry” is not defined.
Sen. Lautenberg, who passed away in June 2013, was a long-time champion of public health and environmental protection, including TSCA reform efforts. The invocation of Sen. Lautenberg’s legacy, however, may “inflame divisions” between Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and other Democrats. Sen. Boxer vocally opposed the CSIA, criticizing that proposal’s preemption of state regulations. The California Attorney General has already written a sharp critique of the Udall-Vitter proposal, calling it an “unprecedented and unnecessary evisceration of state regulatory authority.”
Environmental and other advocacy groups, including the Environmental Working Group and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, are already publicly opposing the new bill and calling for changes. Chemical industry groups, including the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, are lauding it and pushing for its passage. The New York Times quoted Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, calling the bill “a solid compromise that would be much more protective of public health.” In the same article, ACC president Cal Dooley predicts the legislation could garner 70 votes on the Senate floor.
Sen. Udall also said that he is working with Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) on related legislation in the House.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is reportedly holding a hearing on TSCA on March 18. The late Sen. Lautenberg’s widow, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg, is expected to speak in favor of the Udall-Vitter bill. The draft legislation is available here, and a fact sheet prepared by Sens. Udall and Vitter is available here.