Pallone Floor Statement in Support of Modernizing Toxic Substances Control Act
Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) today gave the following statement during House debate on H.R. 2576, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act for the 21st Century, which modernizes the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this legislation named after the late Senator Frank R. Lautenberg from New Jersey, a great friend of mine and a longtime environmental champion.
The Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA has not been updated since it was adopted 40 years ago. For decades, we have known that the law is broken. So this legislation is long past due, and I hope that it will soon be law.
Had the law worked effectively from the beginning, we might never have had BPA in baby bottles, or toxic flame retardants in children’s pajamas and in our living room couches. Workers may have also been protected from exposure to asbestos decades ago.
Let me stress that last point. In 1989, after more than 10 years of study and analysis, EPA banned asbestos under TSCA. But the ban was overturned by the courts because of serious flaws in the statute and serious limitations on EPA’s authority. That court decision came down 25 years ago. Imagine the lives that could have been saved and the injuries that could have been prevented if that ban had stood.
Reforming this law is about preventing injuries and saving lives. It is about protecting vulnerable populations – infants, children, workers, the elderly, and communities that are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals. It is about getting dangerous chemicals like lead, mercury and asbestos out of consumer products, out of commerce, and out of the environment.
The bill before us today is a step forward in reaching this important goal. Let me briefly describe some of the improvements. This bill will make it easier for EPA to require testing of chemicals by allowing them to act through orders instead of rulemaking. It will also make it easier for EPA to regulate chemicals by removing procedural hurdles in current law and providing more resources through user fees. It will ensure that new chemicals are reviewed and regulated, if necessary, before they go on the market. And it will improve transparency by requiring manufacturers to substantiate their claims that information should be protected as confidential business information.
These are all major improvements over current law, but this is a compromise bill. It is not the bill that Democrats would have written if we were in the majority. I understand that some of my colleagues will oppose this legislation today, and I respect that position.
On the substantive side, the bill could make it harder for EPA and citizens to use some of the tools that have proven effective under current law, including Significant New Use Rules and citizen petitions. I would have preferred to leave those tools intact, but hopefully, the new tools we are giving the Agency will more than make up for those changes.
We also worked to reduce the role of animal testing in ensuring that chemicals in commerce are safe. While there has long been broad agreement that animal tests should be a last resort, I had concerns, as did others, that past versions of this bill would keep necessary science out of EPA’s hands. I am pleased that the language has been improved and now states explicitly that scientific studies should not be kept from EPA once they are done. If the studies are done, animals are not helped by keeping the data from EPA.
On the issue of preemption, the bill creates a significant new type of preemption, which many call “pause preemption.” Under the bill, states will be blocked from acting when EPA starts evaluating a chemical, instead of when federal regulations are in place. This is unprecedented and has raised significant concerns for many members, myself included.
In recent weeks, House Democrats have secured several important changes to reduce the impact of pause preemption. Some were included in the Rules Committee Print filed on Friday and some were included in the Manager’s Amendment filed yesterday. Let me briefly describe those changes.
First, we made changes to ensure that states would have lead time and notice before EPA begins to study a chemical, so that they can propose or finalize restrictions before pause begins. Those changes particularly benefit states that act through regulation, as opposed to legislation.
Second, we worked to exclude from the pause the first group of chemicals EPA will review. Since EPA must begin those reviews in the next six months, states will not have lead time to finish their work on those chemicals. This change helps states that are currently working on restrictions for chemicals that are likely to be top EPA priorities.
Third, we were able to exclude top priority chemicals from the pause if the manufacturer of the chemical requests EPA review. This change is complicated but important. Without this change, manufacturers would be able to abuse the system and seek EPA review as a way to cut off a pending state action.
And finally, we clarified the scope of preemption in order to make clear that states are only preempted from regulating the uses EPA has studied or regulated. In total, these changes are enough to allow me to support this bill.
I want to thank three of my colleagues who worked tirelessly over the last week to get these changes included in this final bill - our Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko, Leader Pelosi, and Whip Hoyer. All three of them played an integral part in strengthening the package before us today.
I am happy to support this bill to move forward with more protection for public health, for the environment, for vulnerable populations, and for vulnerable communities. While this is a compromise bill, it is a long-overdue step forward in protecting families and communities from toxic chemicals.
I reserve the balance of my time.