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The White House announced it will back a bipartisan bill to overhaul asbestos regulation, helping it to move forward to Congress’ passage and President Obama’s signature of approval, but Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) put a hold on it Thursday. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has not been overhauled since 1976 when it was originally approved.
The overhaul requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate new and existing chemicals against a higher safety standard than before. This is especially important since asbestos still isn’t banned in the U.S.
The bill also proposes clear and enforceable deadlines for the EPA to act. It limits the number of unwarranted claims of confidentiality that can be made by chemical companies. Also, it includes funding for the EPA to carry out the new measures.
“The bill is a clear improvement over the current TSCA and represents a historic advancement for both chemical safety and environmental law,” said the White House in a statement. Industry officials and public health activists agree the law isn’t effective being 40 years old and overseeing thousands of chemicals.
House Democrat Whip, Steny Hoey of Maryland stated that changes made by Democrats will “ensure the measure will protect families and communities from toxic substances.”
Paul believes the 180-page long legislation has not been subject to enough scrutiny and needs more review. “I told people, everybody involved in this, I just want to read the bill,” he said.
More specifically, Paul is concerned about “provisions that would prevent states from acting unilaterally on chemical regulation, and higher fines or imprisonment for anyone who places an individual in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury … it involves new criminalization, new crimes that will be created at the federal level.”
Senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, is worried about the bill as well, thinking it could block state’s efforts regarding toxic substances. New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, and Vermont have already made strides to strengthen their laws, especially on formaldehyde and styrene.
A proposal was also created to ensure any state law or rule in place prior to April 22 could not be pre-empted by federal law. States would also be allowed to work on some regulations while the federal rules are being developed. This would leave states without strict substance regulation to follow the overhauled TSCA.
This bill “is not the bill Democrats would have written on our own, but it is a long-overdue step forward to protect families and communities from toxic substances,” said three Democrats.
“Well, it looks like American families will have to wait a bit longer for better protection from toxic chemicals,” wrote Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund in a blog.
The government is on recess this week, so it’s speculated this will be voted on as early as next week.