Three reasons TSCA reform should be kept high on the political agenda

Congress may be gone for the rest of the summer, but work to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) continues in earnest.

Everyone who professes to care about modernizing this important statute – whether industry, observer or activist – should be encouraged that negotiations to advance TSCA reform in the Senate have not suffered the fate of other legislative initiatives this Congress. One need only to listen to what Sen. David Vitter himself said last week about the state of play on TSCA to know that he remains committed to moving reform legislation this year – if he can manage to get Senator Boxer to work with him.

But with lawmakers at home, the pace of the city slowing, and minds understandably turning toward beach reading rather than policy making, it’s important to keep in mind some of the reasons why TSCA reform remains a priority.

First and foremost, TSCA is about enabling innovation. Think about all the many gadgets, gizmos, medicines and countless other things you rely upon and encounter every day that make your life easier, safer and more productive. There is an excellent chance that chemistry played a part (if not a LARGE part) in making them possible. Without an effective, reliable law to regulate the use of chemicals and the introduction of new chemicals, the future development and manufacture of innovative new products here in the U.S. could be in jeopardy.

Second, the U.S. needs to reassert its leadership. Some here in the States and certainly overseas have suggested that the European system, known as REACH, is doing the job just fine. However, anyone who pays close attention to what’s happening in Europe knows that REACH may be one of the most cumbersome, slow and expensive regulatory programs on the planet. To the extent that there are real results from the program’s implementation, they are in the form of lost business for small U.S. companies, in manufacturing opportunities and jobs migrating out of Europe, and in increased costs for companies who do produce chemicals in Europe.

Third, California is still “out there” – and by that I don’t mean geographically. The State is in the process of implementing its new Safer Consumer Products Regulations, a.k.a. California’s “Green Chemistry” program. This convoluted program is marketed as an attempt to encourage the development and use of “safer” chemicals, but I think even California regulators would have to admit, the program is really just another attempt to pressure manufacturers to drop certain ingredients from their products. Okay, fine – we all know that California is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to environmental regulations. The problem is that the Green Chemistry is (in short) a mess. Some of the first actions of the program have been fraught with factual errors, process fouls and questionable conclusions. Do we really want to cede the field to California when this is what California-style regulation looks like?

There are other important reasons to reform TSCA, but for all the naysayers and doubters, these three should be sufficient reminders that throwing in the proverbial towel is not an option, and Sen. Vitter’s comments should put to bed any notion that reform efforts are done.

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