Friday, May 20, 2016

Congress reaches agreement to overhaul U.S. chemical safety laws for first time in 40 years

UPDATE, May 27: The House passed the bill 403-12 but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has delayed a Senate vote on the bill, calling it "rushed."

"Congress has reached agreement on the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. chemical safety laws in 40 years, a rare bipartisan accord that has won the backing of both industry officials and some of the Hill’s most liberal lawmakers," Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears report for The Washington Post. "The compromise, which lawmakers unveiled Thursday, will provide the industry with greater certainty while empowering the Environmental Protection Agency to obtain more information about a chemical before approving its use. And because the laws involved regulate thousands of chemicals in products as diverse as detergents, paint thinners and permanent-press clothing, the result also will have a profound effect on Americans’ everyday lives."

The measure, which has the tacit approval of the Obama administration and the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), "could come up for a vote in both chambers as soon as next week," Eilperin and Fears write. "After passage, the EPA must start reviewing at least 10 toxic chemicals that permeate communities across the country, a list that is likely to include asbestos, formaldehyde and flame retardants. Many are interwoven into people’s experience with everyday products, including the ink on their morning newspaper and the fabric protector on their family’s sofa."

The deal "gives the EPA the power to require companies to provide health and safety data for untested chemicals and to prevent substances from reaching the market if they have not been determined to be safe," Eilperin and Fears write. "Under current law, the agency must prove that a chemical poses a potential risk before it can demand data or require testing, and that substance can automatically enter the marketplace after 90 days. In the past four decades, the EPA has required testing for just 200 of thousands of chemicals, and it has issued regulations to control only five of them. More than 8,000 chemicals are produced in the U.S. at an annual rate of more than 25,000 pounds each, according to the agency. Under the bill, instead of going through a lengthy rulemaking process to trigger product testing, the EPA can order companies to test their new products. The measure also imposes user fees on industry to help expand the testing of chemicals."

"In return, chemical manufacturers will be subject to a single regulatory system, although states will still have the right to seek a federal waiver to impose their rules on a given chemical," Eilperin and Fears write. "Currently, California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have placed their own restrictions on some chemicals in the face of federal regulatory inaction.The bill’s provisions include prioritizing the review of chemicals stored near drinking water as well as those that are human carcinogens and highly toxic with chronic exposure. House Democrats were still seeking to insert language that would allow some states in the midst of regulating chemicals the chance to finalize those actions before the EPA starts reviewing its first batch of chemicals under the law." (Read more)

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