Senate Holds Hearing on Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 – November 17, 2011

Date: Nov 21, 2011

Judging by a recent hearing, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee appears ready to move forward with the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 (SCA2011). SCA2011 was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg earlier this year in his continued attempts to reform the 35-year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Committee held a hearing on November 17, 2011 to seek additional input from stakeholders. SCA2011 idled over the summer while members of the Committee held ten off-the-record meetings with stakeholders. The Committee now appears ready to mark-up the bill and bring the revised version up for a vote in the near future.

Key issues the Committee will consider in revising the bill include preemption of state chemical control laws, the need for and potential burden of a required minimum data set, protection of confidential business information (CBI), and the safety standard for evaluating chemicals. Democratic members of the committee pressed witness Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council,[1] to provide concrete alternative proposals rather than critiques for those areas where industry felt the current proposals were unworkable—particularly with regard to the safety standard. Richard Denison, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), indicated that his organization had been working with industry to find commonalities and expected that a joint proposal on CBI with the Chemical Specialty Products Association (CSPA) was "imminent." Both the safety standard and CBI, as well as consideration of how to develop the use and exposure data needed for prioritization and risk assessment, figure to be key areas of contention as SCA2011 is revised.

Although the dialogue at the hearing indicated that a consensus among stakeholders remains out of reach, Senator Lautenberg said that he will call for a vote on SCA2011 in the near future. After the Thanksgiving recess, just over a month remains before Congress will adjourn for the year. With Congress's debt supercommittee failing to agree on a significant debt reduction plan, however, it seems likely that Congress will stay in session until nearly the end of December. Keeping that schedule in mind and given the urgency cited by members present at the hearing, the Environment and Public Works Committee may vote on a revised SCA2011 by the end of the year. Likely, then, the TSCA reform bill will come up for a vote in the full Senate during what is shaping up to be a contentious election year.

For more information on efforts to reform TSCA, please contact Tom Berger at berger@khlaw.com or Greg Clark at clarkg@khlaw.com.

[1] The witnesses at the hearing were Ted Sturdevant, Director of the Department of Ecology for the State of Washington; Charlotte Brody, Director of Chemicals, Public Health and Green Chemistry with BlueGreen Alliance (a coalition of 11 Unions and four environmental NGOs); Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, Robert Matthew of McKenna Long & Aldridge representing the Chemical Specialty Products Association; and Richard Denison, Senior Scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, also representing Safer Chemicals, Health Families.