California Environment, Law Enforcement Officials Warn Senators About Federal Chemicals Bill

OAKLAND, Calif. – Over the last several weeks, officials of the three state agencies charged with protecting California residents from toxic chemical exposures have issued stark warnings about legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate to modernize the federal toxics management law.

“The health and safety of California’s 38 million residents would be in jeopardy and the state’s hands tied from protecting its citizens if the Chemical Safety Improvement Act becomes the law of land,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group and a California resident. “And now California’s top officials, whose jobs it is to protect us from the store shelf to the courtroom, have issued harsh assessments of the bill, warning that enforcement of literally dozens of California laws could be threated by this new industry-backed chemical regulation bill.”

In three separate letters sent to Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), California’s Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Attorney General’s office have expressed serious concerns over what could happen to the state’s tough laws governing toxic chemicals in consumer goods if the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act, or CSIA, were to be signed into law without dramatic changes. 

At issue are provisions in the Senate bill that would allow the federal government to preempt state laws already in place to safeguard residents from undue exposures to toxic chemicals common in many consumer goods, including toys, food, personal care products and household cleaners, among others. The California officials also said the state's pioneering efforts to combat global warming, safeguard drinking water and reduce air pollution are potentially at risk if the bill is passed as written.

The chemical industry has long opposed state efforts to adopt tighter controls on toxic chemicals in response to the woefully inadequate and outdated federal law. While the statute the Senate bill seeks to update is widely considered the weakest of the major federal environmental laws, California Secretary of Environment Matthew Rodriquez wrote in his June 26, 2013 letter to Boxer and Feinstein that, “The existing and more reasonable preemption provisions currently in TSCA have allowed California to take necessary action over the past three decades to reduce toxic chemicals and protect public health and the environment.”

When Congress has updated other federal environmental laws, it has invariably sought to strengthen protection of public health, as was the case with laws that protect air and water quality. In the case of the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act, however, the exact opposite could be true, leaving states with little freedom to keep their residents safe if the federal law proves to be too weak or difficult to enforce, as most observers now fear.  

“The industry-backed bill poses such a serious risk to states’ rights on behalf of public health, it is actually forcing people to praise portions of TSCA—widely acknowledged as the worst and weakest environmental law on the books, ” Cook said.

For the latest news and commentary from EWG on the debate over the Senate bill and federal chemicals policy reform, click here.

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