Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), ranking member on the environment panel, is poised to soon release a bill that would take a piecemeal approach to reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), sources say, as a counter to Democrats' pending efforts to reintroduce a bill backed by environmentalists that would comprehensively overhaul the law.
Observers say Vitter's bill aims to win support from Democrats by taking a narrower approach to reform than that favored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and environmentalists. The sources add that Vitter is also seeking a Democratic co-sponsor before introducing his bill, although it is unclear which lawmakers he is reaching out to for potential support and whether they have an interest in signing on.
But the senator's pending bill could deadlock efforts to move any toxics law legislation by pitting his legislation -- expected to have the support of the American Chemistry Council -- against Lautenberg's effort, with sources downplaying prospects for potential compromise. Lautenberg announced earlier this month that he will not seek reelection next year, creating uncertainty over the fate of his toxics law reform bill.
TSCA reform prospects took a further hit when the Environment & Public Works Committee announced Feb. 12 that Lautenberg is stepping down as chair of the toxics panel -- a prominent position the senator has used to argue for TSCA reform. Still, Lautenberg told Inside EPA Feb. 12 that even though he is no longer subcommittee chairman he will continue to advocate for TSCA reform.
Lautenberg reiterated that in a Feb. 20 statement, saying that he plans to reintroduce a version of his bill "in the coming weeks."
Vitter's role in toxics law reform has increased significantly since becoming ranking member on the environment panel this year, and one energy and environmental policy consultant says Republicans "want to get out ahead" of Lautenberg's anticipated reintroduction of his stringent and far-reaching TSCA reform legislation.
"I think that the Republicans that are drafting their bill are getting a lot of pressure to get it introduced before Lautenberg introduces his bill primarily because of concerns that members are getting pressure from constituents on" reforming the law due to falling public confidence over chemical safety, the source says.
Vitter's bill, when introduced, will mark the first Republican-backed proposal on TSCA reform. The law, passed in 1976, has come under criticism from environmentalists and Democrats for not setting sufficiently stringent standards to ensure chemicals are safe before they enter the marketplace. Republicans and industry meanwhile also say the law needs reform, but their goals focus on improving consumer confidence and simplifying toxics regulations.
Lautenberg has long championed reforming TSCA, calling for a stricter safety standard for chemicals and shifting the burden from EPA to industry to prove chemicals are safe before they can be used in the marketplace. But the senator's reform legislation, known as the Safe Chemicals Act, has been criticized by industry as being too strict and unmanageable for EPA and chemical producers. While the Senate environment committee in 2012 approved the bill, no Republicans backed the measure and it failed to make it to a floor vote.
In response to industry's concerns over the Lautenberg bill, Vitter in late 2012 began crafting his own legislation following a series of consultations with industry groups, sources say. The legislation is expected to be piecemeal, or what one industry source calls a "down payment" approach to addressing flaws in TSCA.
"We want bipartisan support, and we think we might have a better chance if we go about this in incremental pieces," the source says. "Over the past five years or so, the efforts to reform TSCA really have not gone that far, so we think that by approaching this in the way of down payments, we think we can get consensus."
The provisions of Vitter's bill remain unknown, the consultant says, adding that the senator's office has released scant information on the bill and that staff "don't want to let the cat out of the bag before anything is dropped."
When approached by Inside EPA in the Capitol Building Feb. 12, Vitter declined to answer and directed all inquiries to his office. Requests for comment sent to the senator's staff were not returned by press time.
The consultant downplays prospects for TSCA reform, saying, "I think it continues to be a legislative issue for Sen. Lautenberg, Sen. Vitter, and some others have shown interest, but yes, there are at the same time other higher priority issues that we are hearing a lot about" such as gun control, the budget and energy. Those are "issues that seem to be getting a lot more attention -- TSCA still struggles to be a sexy issue," adds the source.
The source says, "I personally still don't think anything is going to happen on TSCA reform, at least in the vein of something that's called TSCA reform," noting the House has shown little interest on the issue.
Lautenberg meanwhile is vowing to push ahead with reintroducing his TSCA reform bill and securing its approval, even as he steps down from the environment committee's toxics panel chairmanship.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) will chair the Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health Subcommittee in the 113th Congress, with Lautenberg relinquishing the role in order to take up the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee's financial services and government panel, which has jurisdiction over several courts, the Small Business Administration, the Executive Office of the President, the Office of Management & Budget and other departments.
Lautenberg told Inside EPA Feb. 12 he has "other responsibilities now that are very large, that's the [appropriations] subcommittee. . . . I'm going to continue the work on TSCA but I won't be able to chair the [toxics] committee."
TSCA reform legislation remains "an important piece of legislation, it's an important protection for our young," he told Inside EPA Feb. 12, saying the rates of health and development problems linked to chemical exposure, such as cognition problems, asthma and autism, is "a very high number -- that's terrible, that's a plague."
Lautenberg's comments to Inside EPA vowing to continue efforts to push his TSCA reform bill echo a statement he made Feb. 11 in response to EPA's release of its latest Chemical Data Reporting rule results on the manufacturing or import of chemicals in quantities greater than 25,000 pounds. The data show an additional 1,400 chemicals were reported as produced in 2011 compared to the 2006 submission -- the previous most recent data.
"This new EPA data exposes the widespread use of chemicals in everyday consumer products, including those intended for our children. Beyond collecting this data, the EPA has little power to require health and safety testing on any of these chemicals, even if experts suspect they are dangerous," Lautenberg said.
He tied release of the data to the push for reform of federal toxics law, saying, "I applaud EPA for using the limited authority available to it to make this information available, and will keep working aggressively on legislation to reform our broken chemical safety laws to better protect the health of our families."
Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson also connected the CDR data to calls for TSCA reform, saying in a Feb. 11 statement that the release of the information highlights "the clear need for TSCA reform. Updating this critical law will ensure that EPA has access to the tools and resources it needs to quickly and effectively assess potentially harmful chemicals, and safeguard the health of families across the country."
Daniel Rosenberg, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a Feb. 11 blog post also called on Congress to use the CDR data as a reason to approve a toxics law overhaul. "To protect our families and our communities from cancer-causing chemicals, and toxic substances linked to learning disabilities, infertility and birth defects, Congress must act to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act." Rosenberg wrote.