Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The no good, horrible, very bad chemicals bill

Photo by Sashafatcat via flickr
by Fawn Pattison, Senior Advocate

Last week was a big week for toxic chemicals reform.

First, the Good: Wal-Mart announced its new Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide. It's great news that the nation's largest retailer is taking concrete steps to make good on its pledge to provide full information to consumers, and reduce high-priority toxic chemicals in many of the products they sell. I sincerely hope that the other top retailers across the nation will soon follow suit (hello Target? Walgreens? are you listening?).

But then, the Bad. The no good, horrible, very bad: The chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), has released a draft bill to "reform" the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). I don't want to mince words or hide my feelings: The “Chemicals in Commerce Act” is very bad. Horrible. No good.

What's so bad about it?

It seems hard to fathom, but the Chemicals in Commerce Act would actually take us backwards from the current federal toxics law, TSCA. TSCA is the notorious toxics law that has allowed more than 80,000 chemicals into commerce, with very little scrutiny. How could it get worse than that?

Here’s how: the Chemicals in Commerce Act would shut down all the progress being made in the states on toxic chemicals. It would end the states’ ability to restrict a chemical in any way if EPA has taken action. It would even impose new secrecy, preventing states from collecting and sharing information about toxic ingredients in products as soon as EPA takes the first steps to evaluate a chemical.

Maybe some of these state programs would seem less necessary if Congress were considering a sweeping, robust federal system of chemical evaluation and regulation that worked swiftly to put public health and the environment first. But they’re not. The Chemicals in Commerce Act actually weakens the approach taken in TSCA, giving undue consideration to the cost of developing new, safer chemicals over the benefits to our health that could be derived from restricting the hazardous old ones.

I'd like to suggest an edit to this sentence from the bill summary: "This is a commerce bill, not just a chemical safety bill." The Chemicals in Commerce Act has nothing to do with chemical safety. It has everything to do with shutting down scrutiny of old-generation chemicals and ending the debate over the Toxic Substances Control Act.

And where does this leave North Carolina? If legislation like the Chemicals in Commerce Act were enacted, our state would no longer have the authority to even consider legislation like the NC Toxic Free Kids Act, or other recent bills to protect our kids’ health from notorious toxic products. Our state legislators ought to take notice.

US House members, especially those serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee, need to hear from their constituents that we value our health above the profits of a handful of corporate chemical giants. From North Carolina, Representatives G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Renee Ellmers (R-NC) serve on the committee and will be hearing lots about this proposed legislation in the weeks to come. Make sure they hear from you!

Walmart recognizes the need to get the most hazardous chemicals out of consumer products. Why doesn't Congress?

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