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 News and Events

Fireworks explode as Dems, industry debate reform bill
Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporter

Published: Thursday, November 17, 2011

What started as a subdued hearing on updating chemical regulations erupted into a shouting match today when Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin accused industry of attempting to sabotage a reform bill.

The Maryland senator lambasted American Chemistry Council (ACC) President Cal Dooley, saying his group has chosen to criticize legislation instead of offering concrete alternatives.

"What I am disappointed by in your response is you said it's going to take a lot of time," Cardin said. "Too many people are affected by this. We've got to get this moving. ... I encourage you to have a greater sense of urgency."

The Democrat continued: "If your objective is to defeat legislation, then I understand what you are doing."

Cardin's remarks came at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D-N.J.) "Safe Chemicals Act" (S. 847<> ). The legislation would overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by giving U.S. EPA more authority to regulate chemicals and requiring chemical manufacturers to prove their substances are safe before they put them on the market.

Dooley steadfastly defended his organization's positions and how it has approached the legislation. He insisted there are significant problems with Lautenberg's bill, including a new safety standard that would require chemical makers to conduct risk assessments on aggregate exposures to chemicals. That would prove too difficult for small businesses, he said, and stifle chemical innovation.

"I think it's unfortunate that we're having a hearing on this legislation today," Dooley fired back at Cardin, adding that it is very similar to legislation from two years ago that ACC considered "unworkable."

Cardin responded, "I just urge you to be more forthcoming in your recommendations so we can try go get to where the real problems are."

Dooley said ACC has produced specific proposals on how EPA should prioritize chemicals for risk assessment.

"Sometimes, I would say, we have been providing answers and solutions of what the industry likes," Dooley said. "Unfortunately, they are not the answers that the authors or some of the proponents of the legislation want to hear."

Dooley also came under fire from Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Merkley pointed to studies indicating harmful chemicals are accumulating in Americans' blood and suggested industry objections are standing in the way of reform.

"I take offense when anyone would even insinuate that our industry is supporting an increase in the body burden of chemicals," Dooley shot back.

"That's where we are heading," Merkley replied. "[Regulators] do not have the ability to pull chemicals off the market."

Whitehouse then asked Dooley to submit redlined edits of Lautenberg's bill.

Dooley voiced a "note of frustration."

"We have met with members of this committee staff on the majority side," he said. "We've given them ideas and suggestions. And they are not reflected in the draft we have today. It's not a result of a lack of specifics."

Dooley received some support from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who said he does not recall "very many cases where a committee has demanded" a stakeholder submit legislative language.

Democrats, Crapo said, are suggesting that "failure to come forward with specifics ... is the only acceptable way to engage on this issue."

"I think that's wrong," Crapo said.

The hearing comes at a critical point for Lautenberg's bill. The Democrat recently finished a series of stakeholder meetings with Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has been noncommittal about whether he will back the legislation (E&E Daily<> , Nov. 4).

Lautenberg has said he hopes to move the bill through committee by the end of the year and is hoping that he can win some Republican support for the measure, something his previous efforts on TSCA reform have lacked.

In his opening statement today, Lautenberg echoed the frustrations of his fellow Democrats on the panel.

"If you have concerns with something in the 'Safe Chemicals Act,' I hope you will either offer a suggestion for improving it, or commit to working through the details with us in the next few weeks," Lautenberg said. "We remain open to other ways of achieving our shared goal of a system that improves safety and encourages continued innovation and growth in the chemical industry. But we must act on this issue soon."

Posted on 11/17/2011 (Archive on 12/8/2011)


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