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House Update: Red Flag Edition

The House unveiled a new version of the TSCA Modernization Act (H.R. 2576) last week and it will be voted on by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee tomorrow.

We’ve generally been positive about the direction of this effort, in spite of the problems in the original discussion draft for a few reasons:

  • The bill is more clearly drafted.
  • It focuses on the basics of reform to avoid pitfalls.
  • Chairman Shimkus has shown openness to improvements and worked productively with Ranking Members Pallone and Tonko.

Indeed, the bill has improved since the first discussion draft was unveiled.

With a vote scheduled tomorrow in the full committee, however, at least one issue hasn’t been addressed at all so it is important to flag very clearly:

  • The chemical industry would get to decide the majority, potentially the overwhelming majority, of the chemicals that EPA reviews.

We flagged this in our testimony to the House subcommittee back on April 14. So did EPA. The bill imposes a clear, no wiggle room, obligation on EPA to conduct an assessment for each and every chemical where it is requested by the industry. It’s a “shall,” not a “may.” EPA shall complete the assessment within 3 years of receiving the request.

On the positive side, EPA is authorized to collect fees for these assessments and the chemicals are held to the same standard of safety. The downside, however, is quite severe.

Literally, as drafted, if companies request reviews for 500 chemicals in the first year, EPA will have to complete those reviews within 3 years. Meanwhile they are only required to initiate 10 reviews of chemicals that they think pose a risk to health or the environment every year, but that requirement is “subject to the availability of appropriations.” The explicit conditioning of EPA’s minimum progress on the availability of appropriations has been described as a requirement of the House budget rule known as “Cut Go.” That may or may not be true, but it has the effect of making the 10-per-year EPA minimum unenforceable, while the industry requests are both enforceable and unlimited.

But is this really a big deal? If industry is paying for the extra assessments and the standard is the same, who cares how many assessments EPA does at their behest?

The first argument is moral. EPA would spend more time, perhaps much more time, giving a seal of approval to those chemicals that industry thinks it is already managing well, instead of the chemicals that EPA thinks could be causing cancer, infertility, and birth defects right now.

The second argument is practical. EPA only has so many staff and so many contractors available to them. If they are jammed with a large number of industry requests, it would create a train wreck at the agency, which is the last thing we need.

Some balance needs to be restored. Congress should make the 10-per-year a true minimum for the EPA-initiated chemicals and give EPA the ability to manage the industry-requested ones to ensure they do not overwhelm the program.

There are other issues in the bill, some of which we’ve highlighted for the committee in the attached letter this morning. This imbalance, however, is clearly the biggest problem in the House bill.

Updated Statement, 6/23/2015

“Our existing chemical policy is broken and today’s vote is an important step toward the reform we need. The TSCA Modernization Act addresses the biggest problems in the current law and avoids some of the pitfalls of the Senate approach. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families congratulate the sponsors on their work together.

The process continues, however, and more work is needed to ensure a final reform package that is enforceable and sufficiently resourced to provide the public with the protection it deserves.”

-Andy Igrejas, Director, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families