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New house draft chemical bill remains a setback

Washington, DC – House Energy and Commerce Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) today unveiled a redraft of legislation purporting to modernize the nation’s outdated chemical laws. The previous draft has been criticized by public health and environment groups for rolling back some of the few protections provided by current law.

The draft comes in advance of a hearing to consider the bill on April 29.

Andy Igrejas, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of business, labor and NGO groups seeking chemical policy reform said:

“We appreciate Chairman Shimkus releasing a new discussion draft of the Chemicals in Commerce Act that attempts to address some of the concerns raised by public health, labor, business and environmental advocates. While we are still reviewing the details, our preliminary analysis is that the new draft remains a step backwards from the status quo of chemical oversight in the U.S. and is therefore not worthy of support.”

Igrejas pointed to several areas of concern:

  • The weakening of EPA’s oversight of new chemicals in the previous draft has been scaled back, but EPA still has less authority to regulate or require testing of new chemicals than existing law.
  • The use of cost-benefit in the bill in regulating existing chemicals has been clarified, but it will likely still prevent EPA from implementing common-sense restrictions on chemicals that flunk a safety review.
  • The pre-emption of state programs has been scaled back slightly, but is still sweeping and goes far beyond existing law.
  • EPA has been provided with authority to order testing for purposes of prioritizing a chemical, but the authority is so heavily qualified that it may prove difficult to use in practice.
  • The “low priority category” in the bill has been tightened somewhat, but it still holds the potential that hundreds of chemicals will be treated as safe without a thorough safety review.
  • The draft explicitly would allow companies to mask the identity of a chemical linked to toxic health effects.