Partisan gridlock snarled Toxic Substances Control Act reform
Hopes were high in early 2014 that Congress could strike a bipartisan deal to reform the outdated law that governs commercial chemicals. But those hopes sank later in the year as the effort got bogged down in partisan bickering.
Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers have laid a foundation for potentially rewriting the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to their liking when they take over Congress in 2015.
As 2014 opened, political momentum was strong for modernizing TSCA, which dates to 1976. Both the chemical industry and environmental and health advocates want the law reformed. And in 2013, key senators had introduced a landmark bipartisan bill to recast TSCA, and a GOP-led House subcommittee held a series of hearings on the statute.
Buoyed by this momentum, House Republicans released draft legislation to reform TSCA earlier this year. But the effort tanked when it failed to garner appreciable support from Democrats.
A major sticking point is that chemical industry groups want a recast TSCA to override the growing number of state laws restricting or banning substances (see page 32). GOP lawmakers generally support this position. In contrast, environmental and health activists, unions, some businesses, and some states—backed by many Democrats—want to retain states’ ability to adopt their own controls on chemicals.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) worked for much of 2014 to rework the TSCA reform bill introduced last year (S. 1009). But they never released their new version because of opposition from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), outgoing chairman of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee.
The incoming Congress is expected to pick up work on TSCA and may pass a bill with provisions the chemical industry has sought for years. It’s still unclear whether President Barack Obama would sign or veto it.