Wave of Opposition to Senate Chemicals Bill Swells from Public Interest Groups, Legal Scholars

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dozens of public interest organizations and legal scholars today sent letters to Congressional leaders expressing their unified opposition to the industry-backed Chemical Safety Improvement Act introduced last month by a bipartisan group of senators.

In a letter to the chairman and ranking members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Economy, 24 environmental and public health groups from around the country wrote:

“We respect and appreciate the efforts to identify areas of bipartisan compromise and consensus on chemical safety legislation. However, we believe that the resulting Chemical Safety Improvement Act, S. 1009, has serious limitations and will fall far short of our shared goal of safeguarding human health from the risks posed by exposure to toxic chemicals. As a result, we will oppose this bill as it is currently written unless it is amended to address our key concerns.”

Among the organizations that signed the letter were the Breast Cancer Fund, Greenpeace, Environmental Working Group, Healthy Child, Healthy World and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

The coalition took issue with several sections of the industry-supported bill. Among the groups’ concerns are the legislation’s failure to create much-needed health protections that are absent in the current law but were included in the Safe Chemicals Act introduced earlier this year by the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg.

Specifically, the groups noted, the current bill doesn’t “explicitly protect women and children” or take into consideration “the cumulative burden of chemical pollution for residents of highly polluted communities and workers.” In addition, the industry-backed bill “sets no clear timelines to ensure EPA assesses hazardous chemicals in a timely manner” and “would not require that chemicals be found to be safe before manufacturing begins.”

Another letter, sent by more than a dozen California-based advocacy groups, voiced concerns over the legislation’s potential to preempt the state’s existing tough regulation of toxic chemicals. Several analyses of the Senate bill have concluded that it could leave California’s Proposition 65 toxic chemicals regulation law in tatters by giving the federal Environmental Protection Agency authority to supersede the state statute, which was created through a popular referendum vote in 1986. The California organizations wrote:

“…the broad language on state-level preemption could tie California’s hands and prevent the state from continuing to be a leader on toxic chemical issues. While the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, TSCA and many other federal environmental laws allow states to take more aggressive action to protect their residents from potential environmental threats, any such action would be severely limited under the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. For these and other reasons, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act is not acceptable in its current form.”

The California-based organizations sent their letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate and Environment and Public Works Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In a third letter, 34 law professors, legal scholars and public interest lawyers with years of collective experience in public health and environmental law and a particular focus on state and federal toxics policy, also weighed in. In their letter and detailed analysis of the bill, which was sent to Congressional leaders, the wrote:

“In view of tomorrow’s hearing, we write to express serious reservations with the ‘Chemical Safety Improvement Act,’ which was introduced by Sen. David Vitter and the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg on May 22, 2013, in an effort to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. Supporters have heralded the bill as a ‘historic step’ toward fixing our broken framework for regulating chemicals on the market. However, for reasons explained herein, we cannot support the bill as written, which must be strengthened to overhaul current law and ensure that chemicals are safe for people, particularly vulnerable populations such as children.”

In his own comment on the bill, EWG president and co-founder Ken Cook said that: “While we appreciate the efforts to craft a bipartisan path toward TSCA reform, the bill as it stands now is nothing short of a monument to the chemical industry. Something is clearly amiss when chemical companies, their lobbyists and lawyers are united in support of a bill while virtually the entire environmental community is aligned against it.”

All of the letters sent today can be found here:

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