After decades of work, we are on the verge of a historic change in the way toxic chemicals are regulated in this country, with The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.
The new bill is a significant improvement over our current, broken law, the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA.
Moms Clean Air Force applauds this unprecedented bipartisan effort to better protect us from dangerous chemicals.
However, the work is not done yet. We are seeking stronger health protections in several critical areas.
Much of the controversy around this bill has centered on issues of state preemption — the extent to which a federal law, once it comes into effect, overrides state laws. This is a highly complex area of this new bill; we provide further information about it in our Toxic Chemical Q&A.
States have done important work in regulating chemicals, in the absence of federal programs. However, in all the decades that states have been working on chemicals, only 12 chemicals or chemical groups that would be covered by EPA under TSCA (the Toxic Substances Control Act) have been restricted. Despite the important work that has been done, states simply don’t have the capacity, budget, or expertise to tackle the tens of thousands of untested chemicals in commerce. If you do not live in a state that has strong chemical laws, you may be out of luck. That’s why we need a national law.
There are three areas in the proposed bill that need to be addressed for it to better protect American families from toxic chemicals:
1. Timing of state preemption
The new bill allows national regulations on chemicals to override state regulations in some cases – also called “preemption.” But the timing of preemption opens a gap that could harm public health. The bill says that new state actions to restrict a chemical must stop if and when EPA designates a chemical as high priority and starts to evaluate it. There is a potentially long period of up to seven years before EPA takes final action on a chemical, during which states could not initiate new actions to restrict that particular chemical — though only for the same use that EPA has chosen to evaluate.
Consumers and manufacturers may well shun a chemical whose safety is being questioned, and that might help keep it off shelves during this years-long gap. But we operate in a world in which we don’t know what chemicals are in our products. We cannot count on consumer boycotts to keep us safe.
State actions on a chemical should stay in place until EPA has made and announced its final decision about the safety of that chemical – not before.
2. State co-enforcement of federal requirements
States should be permitted to enforce federal requirements for chemicals, something that is routine for other environmental laws.
The new bill takes away the states’ rights to co-enforce federal restrictions on chemicals. Co-enforcement is standard procedure in environmental laws. Given that EPA faces annual budget cuts, additional resources in safeguarding the public are needed to help protect our families.
States should be able to enforce federal requirements within their borders. More “cops on the beat” means more safety for our children.
3. Number of chemicals to be reviewed
Given the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market, and the potential health risks our families face every day, EPA should be required to pick up the pace of chemicals it reviews in the first five years. At least 40 chemical assessments should be underway by then, rather than the minimum of 25 now called for. No agency can be expected to compensate in five years for forty years of having to operate under a broken law, but we need a more ambitious timeline to jumpstart the new program.
Moms Clean Air Force is committed to working to make this bill as strong as possible — and keep it politically viable. You’ll be hearing from us as we gather petition signatures, ask members to testify at hearings, and notify you of changes to the bill.
For those of you who want a deep dive into what is going on right now with a new toxic chemical law, please visit our Q&A.