The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a day-long hearing on July 31, 2013 featuring 19 witnesses testifying on ways to strengthen federal safeguards against chemicals that pose threats to public health or the environment. The hearing largely focused on two bills to modernize the federal chemical management statute, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 (S. 696) and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S. 1009).
The Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in April with 26 Democratic and two Independent co-sponsors. The Chemical Safety Improvement Act was a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in May with 25 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. Chemical manufacturers have supported its passage of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.
Chair of the Senate EPW Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), began the hearing by noting she fully supported S. 696 because it was based on the principle of “protecting people from harmful chemicals.” She added that she could support a bipartisan bill to update the TSCA statute if it was revised to protect states rights, includes deadlines for federal action, ensures that parties harmed by chemicals can sue, and specifically protects vulnerable populations, including children.
Throughout the hearing, Sen. Vitter said his aim is to distinguish between two categories of problems raised by various witnesses – misinterpretations or actual distortions of S. 1009 and legitimate suggestions for revisions. While expressing concerns about the bipartisan S. 1009, Daniel Rosenberg, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council who was among the witnesses, identified ways to improve the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. He was joined by several witnesses in expressing the belief that the current efforts signal that many members believe it's worth trying to make progress to modernize TSCA and that there's still a lot of work to be done.
The witnesses and senators at the hearing agreed that TSCA, which became law in 1976 under President Gerald Ford, needs to be updated. After the hearing, Boxer said she hopes to mark up a revised TSCA-reform bill after the August recess when Congress returns in the fall.