A new bill to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) will put our family’s health and the environment at risk. Originally called H.R. 1158, the “Elimination of Future Technologies Delay Act,” supporters say the bill would streamline the approval of substances that might be required to meet important energy needs in the future. H.R. 1158 has recently been folded into H.R. 1, House Republicans’ larger energy package.
Streamlining approval sounds good! But in reality, it could create a loophole to rush chemicals to market before they’ve been proven safe for human health, putting us all at risk. Chemicals needed for important energy technology like batteries for electric cars can be highly toxic and, therefore, must be shown not to harm health before hitting the market.
Here’s the briefest history of TSCA, our nation’s chemical safety law—a quick reminder. TSCA is supposed to protect our families and communities from the health and ecological impacts of harmful chemicals. It was enacted in 1976, and over time, it proved to be outdated and weak. A strengthening overhaul of TSCA with important fixes occurred in 2016: the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed into law by President Obama with strong bipartisan support.
The overhauled version of TSCA isn’t perfect; nothing is. Still, it is stronger than the 1976 version and contains critical reforms to ensure that dangerous, health-harming chemicals don’t contaminate the places we live, work, and play. And it held, mostly.
There are always going to be people trying to roll TSCA back. The concerns with this latest attempt are that when a chemical is determined to be a “critical energy resource,” the proposed bill could allow approval of new chemicals without any determination of their safety. This means that chemicals with potentially devastating health impacts could end up in our homes and communities.
Also, the bill would force EPA to make safety determinations about new chemicals based on factors other than health and environmental risks. This means that EPA could prioritize factors like economic costs over human safety when deciding if new chemicals can be used.
Far too many times in the past, we’ve learned about the dangers of a substance—think PFAS or asbestos—long after it has been allowed into our homes, communities, and the environment, and long after it has harmed the health of millions and damaged precious ecosystems. TSCA is supposed to keep this from happening again.
There’s zero evidence that we need to compromise public health to meet our needs for a clean energy future. Actually, meeting our energy needs in a way that’s safe for workers and communities is critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of new clean energy technologies.
Instead of rolling back protections, Congress should fully fund the TSCA program to provide staff and resources necessary to safely, transparently, and quickly review new chemicals proposed for entry into the market. Instead, the House of Representatives under Republican control will likely pass H.R. 1., which now includes this bad bill, in upcoming weeks under the guise of prioritizing critical energy sources—a vague goal that puts industry over human health. It’s still worth asking Congress to protect the integrity of TSCA and vote no on H.R. 1.
While it’s unlikely the bill will pass the Senate, and even less likely President Biden would sign it, this attempt to weaken TSCA should be taken seriously. People who want to undermine TSCA are coming after it and will try again. There may be efforts to amend the bill so that it will appeal to more Democrats. Linking this attempt to weaken TSCA to critical energy needs is sneaky; it will make opponents inherently appear anti-innovation and against new energy technologies, especially now that the original bill has been folded into a much bigger one focused on way more than TSCA.
Still, TSCA’s goal has been clear since 1976, and we need to uphold its essence: human health and environment over industry. We can’t be asleep at the wheel. We don’t want unstudied chemicals rushed to market. We can—and must—meet our clean energy needs for the future without sacrificing the health and safety of our families and communities.