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Senate TSCA reform bill gains filibuster-proof support

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Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), co-author of the Senate bill to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (S 697), has agreed to changes to secure the backing of two more Democratic senators.

The addition of the two brings the total number of co-sponsors to 60. This is the threshold of support needed to prevent a filibuster on the Senate floor. 

The changes, which secured the support of senators Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), include:

  • increasing the annual funding cap for industry TSCA fees from $18m to $25m, and ensuring sufficient resources to defray 25% of the EPA’s chemical safety programme costs;

  • setting a mandatory four-year deadline for industry compliance with EPA regulations;

  • clarifying and simplifying the process for state waivers from pre-emption and state co-enforcement of federal chemical safety regulations;

  • expediting regulatory action on the EPA’s TSCA work plan chemicals from seven years to five in most cases. These are the 90 chemicals the agency has identified as having the highest potential for exposure and hazard;

  • requiring the EPA to disclose the information it used to make prioritisation decisions; and

  • changing the provisions which allow access to confidential business information for medical professionals and first responders.

Mr Markey, who had co-authored a counter TSCA bill with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) (CW 13 March 2015), said in a joint statement with Mr Udall and Mr Durbin, that he was pleased by the “positive and meaningful” changes to the bill. They would, he said:

  • ensure chemical companies comply with mandatory deadlines for safety regulations;
  • expedite regulatory action on the most dangerous chemicals;
  • allow states more flexibility to implement new chemical regulations; and
  • give theEPA the funds it needs to do the job.

Ms Boxer, who had vowed to complicate passage of the Udall-Vitter bill if it was taken up instead of the bill already passed by the House, is also close to a deal with the bill's sponsors to allow it to move to the Senate floor (CW 1 October 2015). It is expected to be taken up for floor consideration this week.

Mr Markey's and Mr Durbin's support shows that the bill has strong backing across the political spectrum, and that it cannot be stopped by a filibuster, said Chris Cathcart, president of the Consumer Specialty Products Association. “We are an important step closer to TSCA modernisation today, and we hope to soon take an even bigger step by passing this bill on the Senate floor.“

Urging the full Senate to take up S 697 without further delay, the American Chemistry Council said that the growing support for the measure “demonstrates the substantial improvements the bill will make to the current law and the significant benefits it will deliver to the public.”

“This is yet another major breakthrough, and we believe the bill will pass very soon, but it’s still too early to pop the champagne corks,” said Dan Newton, senior manager of government relations at the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (Socma). “We need to see the bills reconciled and a final version that provides the necessary balance between environmental protection and promoting innovation signed into law before we can celebrate. We are confident this will happen.”

Elizabeth Thompson, president of Environmental Defense Fund Action (EDFAction) – the EDF's campaign arm – called the two Democratic senators' backing a “major step forward in securing comprehensive legislation to ensure chemical safety.”

But Andy Igrejas of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, said that despite the changes, the “legislation would still contain a number of problematic provisions … and our coalition will remain opposed."

Dinesh Kumar

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