Proposed changes to a decades-old federal toxic substances law has the U.S. chemicals industry concerned that the proposed reforms could stifle innovation and move production offshore. Any changes to existing regulations also could have a far-reaching impact throughout manufacturing supply chains.
At issue are proposed reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) introduced HR 5820, known as the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, on July 22. The bill would strengthen the federal government's authority over chemical substances in the marketplace by increasing chemicals manufacturers' reporting requirements to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Manufacturers should be responsible for providing health and safety information on chemicals, Steve Owens, assistant administrator in the EPA's Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Office, said before a House subcommittee on July 29. If industry doesn't provide adequate information, the EPA should have the tools and authority to require testing and take actions when necessary, Owens said. He noted that the current rules don't include a mandatory EPA review program of existing chemicals.
But manufacturing trade groups have voiced concerns that the amended law would place unnecessary, time-consuming burdens on chemicals producers. One major sticking point is the proposed requirement that manufacturers assess all existing uses of a chemical that is being introduced into a new application. It also would require manufacturers to evaluate chemical levels in the environment, says Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.
"Even if you could meet that standard, it would be so costly and time consuming that it would result in the development of that product not occurring in the United States," said Dooley in a press briefing prior to testifying before the House subcommittee on July 29. "It would likely create an incentive for that product to move offshore."
The National Association of Manufacturers issued a similar statement after the bill was introduced, saying increased EPA control would create "more uncertainty for manufacturers."
"In its current form, the bill hurts manufacturers' ability to innovate and remain competitive in a global marketplace," said Keith McCoy, NAM vice president for Energy and Resources Policy, in a statement dated July 23. "It dramatically expands the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency's authority over every sector of our nation's economy, sets unrealistic standards and timeframes and puts unnecessary burdens on manufacturers with new and inconsistent statutory requirements."
NAM declined to comment further on specific concerns.
The increase in testing and reporting would discourage research and development and the introduction of new chemicals or applications of existing materials, Beth Bosley, president of Boron Specialties LLC, told the subcommittee.
A new chemicals review program under the current law is effective, Bosley said, as it evaluates more than 1,000 substances annually without impeding innovation. She also raised concerns about the threat the bill could pose to intellectual property.
The proposed legislation calls for chemicals manufacturers to substantiate their claim that certain information submitted to the EPA is proprietary and deserving of protection, says Stephen Giblin, a corporate environmental law attorney with Jones Day in Cleveland.
"So there is some real concern about how that is going to play out in the real world in terms of what criteria EPA is going to identify in terms of what needs to be submitted and what demonstration needs to be made in order to qualify certain information as worthy of protection as confidential business information," Giblin says.
Giblin says he doesn't expect action on the legislation until the next Congress convenes.