What’s old is new again. This week, competing bills to reform the 40-year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) hit the Senate—one from Senators Vitter and Udall, the other from Senators Boxer and Markey. Both the environmental community and the chemical industry agree that TSCA is broken and must be fixed. This is a law that’s so poorly designed; EPA has been stymied in its efforts to ban asbestos. Yes, that asbestos. But where environmentalists and the chemical industry diverge is on the details of how to fix TSCA.
CPR Member Scholars and staff are still analyzing the bills, but one issue stands out as a fatal flaw in the Vitter-Udall proposal, and is addressed wisely in the Boxer-Markey proposal: the proposed safety standard. The “safety standard” is the focal point of the legislation: EPA’s central task under both proposals is to determine whether chemicals meet the standard. If a chemical meets the standard, then restrictions on manufacture, processing, and use will be limited. If it doesn’t, then EPA must consider tight controls, even banning the chemical. But the safety standard in this legislation is very problematic.
With colleagues from the environmental community, one dozen CPR Member Scholars sent this letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate EPW Committee to explain our concerns. Chief among them is that the Vitter-Udall legislation retains a key phrase, “unreasonable risk,” that has been the Achilles Heel of EPA’s TSCA program for decades. If Congress intends to fix TSCA, the statute must be rid of that phrase and amended to use a standard that ensures a ‘reasonable certainty of no harm’ from chemicals in commerce. Such a standard—found in the Boxer-Markey bill—is better for both people and the environment.